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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thanks Angels, see you losers next week


In what has to go down as one of the lamest clinches in sports history, the Boston Red Sox lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 8-7 last night-their fifth straight defeat-but still obtained the American League wild card as the Rangers lost to the Angels 5-2 early this morning.

It is the sixth time in the last seven seasons that the Red Sox have made the postseason.

It would have been a perfect way to win it as the Sox (91-66) rallied from a 8-2 deficit with five runs in the eighth at Fenway Park. Kevin Youkilis struck out looking to end the game with two runners on base.

Oh well, none of this matters one iota. Nobody has to think about the Red Sox for the next week or so, before the real games start against the Angels in the ALDS. It'll be the third straight season that the two teams have met in the first round and it's hard to forget how dominant the Sox have been over the Angels in October.

Clay Buchholz was shelled last night after having been spectacular for the last month or two. In five innings, he allowed seven earned runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts. The loss dropped him to 7-4 and he gave up five home runs.

Adam Lind-who should be AL rookie of the year-had three homers for Toronto (74-84).

In the first, Jose Bautista hit a homer on the first pitch of the game and Lind followed shortly after that with a two-run bomb. Travis Snider's RBI single made it 4-0 Blue Jays in the first.

Victor Martinez drove in Dustin Pedroia (3 hits) with an RBI single in the bottom of the first.

Aaron Hill (his 36th, HAHA) hit a solo homer in the second and Jason Bay scored on Ricky Romero's wild pitch in the bottom of the second.

After struggling so much against Boston this season, Romero (13-9) finally had a decent start. He went five innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

The Blue Jays hit three more solo home runs: Kevin Millar in the 3rd, Lind in the 5th and Lind in the 7th to make it 8-2.

That's when the Red Sox bats came alive and it looked like they'd have one of their most memorable wins of the season. Youkilis and David Ortiz (2 hits) both had RBI doubles in the eighth. Ortiz just missed his 29th homer as his drive hit a bullpen wall. J.D. Drew had the big blast as he cranked a three-run shot over Toronto's bullpen.

Jason Frasor nearly blew it but he recorded his 11th save.

With so much going on elsewhere in the sports world: Bruins open up tomorrow, Patriots-Ravens on Sunday and Celtics starting training camp, it's nice that the Red Sox games are completely irrelevant for a few days.

The playoffs will be here soon enough.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The one where Patriots discover a running game



The New England Patriots came into yesterday's game with the Falcons facing as much adversity as they've had since they started winning Super Bowls. The roster is in flux, the offense can't score in the red zone and who will make plays on defense?

Those are just a few of the questions facing the 2009 Patriots but yesterday they proved that they're still pretty good and the Falcons (2-1) were a tad overrated.

On a rainy, miserable day at Gillette Stadium, the Pats (2-1) had the ball for 39 minutes, en route to a 26-10 win. The red zone deficiency is still their biggest issue as they went 1-for-5 but at least they discovered a running game.

Fred Taylor had 105 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. Playing without Wes Welker again, Tom Brady still didn't look like himself but he finished 25-of-42 for 277 yards and a touchdown.

Without Welker in the lineup, Randy Moss has become more of a short, possession receiver, as opposed to his normal deep threat. Straight Cash Homey had 10 catches for 116 yards.

Through the first three games, New England's defense has been the most pleasant surprise. They completely shut down a very good Atlanta offense. Matt Ryan was 17-of-28 for 199 yards but no touchdowns. Michael Turner was held to 56 yards rushing while Roddy White (24 yards) and Tony Gonzalez (16 yards) were neutralized by our no-name secondary.

Jason Elam (26 yards) and Stephen Gostowski (21 yards) traded field goals in the first quarter.

Taylor gave New England a 10-3 lead in the second quarter with an 8-yard run up the gut. Belichick's plan to control Atlanta's offense was simply to not let them have the ball. The Pats failed for the most part in the red zone but the fact that they were there so many times showed how long they possessed the ball.

Turner tied it later in the second quarter with a two-yard run. Gostkowski's 33-yard kick with 20 seconds left in the first half gave the Pats a 13-10 lead.

Another Gostkowski kick (22 yards) was the only scoring in the third quarter and he opened the fourth with another boot (33 yards).

After they showed him on the bench pissed off earlier, Brady was much happy in the fourth quarter when he connected with tight end Chris Baker on a 36-yard catch and run for a touchdown.

Ryan and the Falcons offense could never get anything going and the Pats had a nice win. New England was a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth downs, including a conversion on fourth and inches at their own 24 in the third quarter.

Vince Wilfork left in the second quarter with an ankle injury but New England's D didn't seem to skip a beat. They forced a fumble by Michael Turner which James Sanders recovered.

It's still hard to tell how good this team is but facing the Baltimore Ravens-arguably the top team in the NFL-next Sunday at Gillette should bring some immediate feedback.

The Ravens are 3-0 and finally have some offense to go with that ridiculous defense. Joe Flacco is throwing it all over the field, they have a bunch of good running backs and Ray Lewis is still murdering people/dancing up a storm. Should be a good one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Please give Zack Greinke the AL Cy Young



Last night was Kansas City Royals ace Zach Greinke's only chance to play against the Red Sox this season and boy did he live up to the hype.

Greinke (15-8) threw six innings of shutout, two-hit ball. He walked three and struck out five, leaving his ERA at 2.08. In the American League especially and on such a crappy team, that is nothing short of incredible.

He has gotten hype all season after an amazing start but he slowed down in the middle of the season, as the Royals started their annual collapse.

Still, Greinke has picked his game back up and he deserves the award much more than C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay.

The Royals (63-88) put it away in the first-something that's probably never been written in the last 20 years-as they scored five runs off Paul Byrd.

Nothing was hit hard but Kansas City scored on a bases-loaded walk, an RBI single, ground out and a two-run single.

Boston (89-61) only managed two hits in the entire game: a double by Dustin Pedroia (extending his hitting streak to 14 games) and a single by Victor Martinez in the sixth (putting his hit streak at 21 games).

Jacoby Ellsbury scored on Martinez's ground out in the eighth and the Sox had two guys on in the ninth but couldn't push across any more runs. Royals closer Joakim Soria only needed one pitch to record his 29th save of the season.

After losing the first two games of the series, Boston looks to bounce back tonight with Josh Beckett against Luke Hochevar. A vintage Beckett performance would be nice since he'll only have a few more starts before the games really matter (ie. in October).

Monday, September 21, 2009

At least Fireman Ed is happy


The New York Jets are legit.

With Week 2 of the 2009 NFL season not yet complete, its best to steer clear of ESPN-style bone-headed grand statements. Still, after a 16-9 win over the New England Patriots yesterday at the Meadowlands, I think we know where the biggest challenger in the AFC East lies.

The Patriots (1-1) played well in the first half, especially defensively but they couldn't cash in on any of their three tries in the red zone. The 9-3 halftime lead for New England should have been more but it wasn't.

Stephen Gostkowski was the Pats' offensive player of the game and that's never a good thing. He hit field goals from 45 yards, 25 yards and 29 yards.

Jay Feely, the Jets' kicker, hit a 33-yard kick in the first half.

After looking terrible against our average (on a good day) defense in the first half, Jets rookie quarterback Vinnie Chase (aka Mark Sanchez) completed a 45-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery (4 catches, 87 yards) on the first play of the second half.

A few plays later, Sanchez found tight end Dustin Keller in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown completion. Feely's kick gave New York a 10-9 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

Wes Welker was a surprise scratch from the game but rookie receiver Julian Edelman (8 catches, 98 yards) did fine in his NFL debut. Jets stud cornerback Darrelle Revis (5 tackles, 1 INT) completely neutralized Randy Moss (4 catches, 24 yards).

For whatever reason, Tom Brady (23-for-47, 216 yards, 1 interception) and the rest of the offense have never looked in a rhythm so far in the first two games (save for the last five minutes vs. Buffalo).

Joey Galloway (5 catches, 53 yards) had a bunch of balls thrown his way yesterday but he never seemed to be on the same page as Brady.

Fred Taylor was the leading rusher for New England with 46 yards but its obvious that the offense needs more balance, at least until Brady, Randy Moss, Welker, etc. start firing on all cylinders.

After a Feely field goal in the third quarter and another in the fourth (giving New York a 16-9 lead), New England still had life as it forced a Jets punt.

His whole career and the freshest memory of all-the Buffalo game-completely obscures reality at this point with Brady as any comeback seems not only possible but a foregone conclusion. Not yesterday.

A fourth down pass to Galloway was incomplete and the Jets had picked up a big W after a week of running their mouths.

The Jets' defense is very solid and their blitz packages created constant pressure on Brady. He was never sacked (showing how overrated those are) but he could never get comfortable in the pocket.

Next week doesn't get any easier as the Atlanta Falcons (2-0), led by former BC star Matt Ryan, invade Gillette Stadium next Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When does the ALCS vs. the Yankees start?


As I texted to three of my friends, who were all (seperately) at the game last night, "the Red Sox own the Angels."

Sure that looked stupid when Anaheim (86-59) took a 7-5 lead in the seventh or an 8-7 lead in the top of the ninth.

At Fenway Park and against the Angels, the Sox (86-58) are world-beaters and they proved that once again with a thrilling 9-8 walk-off win courtesy of Alex Gonzalez. It was their seventh straight win overall and tenth in a row at home.

With Paul Byrd on the mound, the Angels built a 3-0 lead on a Erick Aybar (4 hits) infield single in the third, a Bobby Abreu (3 hits, 2 RBIs) RBI double in the fifth and solo bomb by Torii Hunter in the sixth.

Boston finally got to Angels starter Joe Saunders in the sixth, with a big assist from the usually reliable Angels defense.

Jason Bay (2 hits, steal) cut it to 3-2 with a two-run single and Rocco Baldelli tied it with an RBI single of his own.

Foreshadowing his walk-off bloop to win it, Gonzalez gave Boston a 5-3 lead with a flare to shallow right field which scored two.

Anaheim kept battling and scored three times in the seventh: Howie Kendrick RBI single, two-run double by Juan Rivera (3 hits) and an RBI double by Mike Napoli.

Both bullpens had their major troubles on the night as Boston scored twice more in the eighth. A run came in on Casey Kotchman's groundout and Jacoby Ellsbury's RBI single tied it at 7.

Abreu's RBI single in the ninth off Daniel Bard (2-1) (Papelbon and Wagner weren't available) looked like the game-winner with the bottom of the lineup due up in the home half of the inning.

In one of the most improbable comebacks you'll ever see, Nick Green walked with the bases loaded (after taking a pitch for ball four that was clearly a strike) and then Gonzalez hit a broken bat single to left off Brian Fuentes (1-5), who threw 27 pitches.

Josh Beckett faces Ervin Santana tonight in the series finale and I think after the craziness of the first two games, you can expect a perfect game or at the very least a no-hitter from Beckett, who has not been himself for over a month.

Texas lost again last night so they're 6.5 games back in the wild card. Good night Rangers and thanks for playing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Diceman Cometh


Now that the Red Sox are 5.5 games in front of the Rangers in the wild card (six in the loss column) and 6.5 behind the Yankees (only five in the loss column), we can finally exhale and assume that yes, Boston will be in the playoffs again.

It's pretty much guaranteed that if you do in fact make it, they'll play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, for the millionth consecutive year.

And yes the Angels (86-58) have been one of baseball's hottest teams since the All-Star break but do you really fear that team?

The teams opened up an intriguing three-game set last night at Fenway and Boston won 4-1 behind Daisuke Matsuzaka's triumphant return to the big club.

Dice-K had been on a minor league odyssey since he was last seen at Fenway (June 19), out of shape and completely ineffective. With Clay Buchholz locking up the third spot in the rotation, all we need is a few signs from Dice-K that he can bring something positive to this season.

Obviously, he had a no-hitter into the fifth inning last night and in total, threw six shutout innings. Matsuzaka (2-5) allowed three hits, walked three and struck out five in one of the most promising things to happen to the Red Sox all season.

The Angels own the Yankees and most other teams in baseball but for whatever reason, when they come to Fenway (and especially when they meet in October) they turn into Grade A frauds. The Sox have beaten them in 12 of their last 13 playoff games (spanning '04, '07 and '08).

The Sox even beat Anaheim at their own game last night: small ball. Dustin Pedroia bunted to move over Alex Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury (at first and second respectively). Angels pitcher John Lackey botched the throw on Pedroia's bunt and Gonzalez came around to score, giving Boston a 1-0 lead in the sixth.

David Ortiz singled home Ellsbury later in the inning for a 2-0 lead.

Boston added two more in the eighth as Jason Bay singled home J.D. Drew and Ortiz ripped a solo homer.

Erick Aybar had an RBI double in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon but that was pretty much irrelevant.

Paul Byrd opposes Joe Saunders tonight in game 2.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Brady's back bitches


For 3+ quarters last night, Tom Brady's triumphant return to the NFL was anything but by the script.

Everyone assumed that the Buffalo Bills would come into Gillette Stadium and get rolled. A team that had just fired its offensive coordinator, cut its starting left tackle and brought Terrell Owens aboard with a lame duck coach (Dick Jauron) did not seem to be a team destined to upset the Patriots.

Yet there they were, up 24-13 with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter after Trent Edwards (212 yards, 2 TDs) found Fred Jackson (140 total yards) for a 10-yard touchdown on a screen pass.

True to the form of a team that had lost 11 straight games (and 16 out of 17) to the Patriots, Buffalo completely folded.

Brady (378 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and the offense finally got on the same page and Ben Watson (6 catches, 77 yards) snagged an 18-yard pass to cut it to 24-19 Bills with 2:06 remaining.

The two-point conversion, a pass to Watson, was picked off which seemed like a big deal. The Pats needed to get the ball back fast, and they needed a touchdown to save this poor performance. With three timeouts and the two-minute warning, it looked like if they could force a three-and-out, they'd be in good shape.

Bills returner Leodis McKelvin had other plans though as he tried to be a hero and took the ensuing kickoff out of his own end zone. Wouldn't you know that he fumbled at the 31-yard line after Brandon Meriweather stood him up and Pierre Woods stripped him of the ball. Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski improbably fell on the ball and the Patriots were in business.

Brady found Watson with an eerily similar pass (16 yards) and New England took a 25-24 lead with 50 seconds left. Once again, they failed to convert the two-point conversion.

Buffalo got the ball back and drove down the field but they couldn't get in field goal range and were forced to try a million laterals, which ultimately failed.

Whew.

Where to begin? Even though, the statistics were dominated by the Patriots, this was a game they had no business winning. No doubt, Dennis Green was spinning in his grave saying "the Bills let them off the hook!"

Randy Moss (12 catches, 141 yards) and Wes Welker (12 catches, 93 yards) had great games but too often, the offense seemed out of sync.

On the other side, the Pats defense lost its best player to a knee injury-Jerod Mayo in the first quarter; he never returned-and they couldn't stop Edwards or Jackson. The secondary apparently held up as Owens was held to 45 yards on two catches and Lee Evans only had 25 yards on three catches.

Clearly Jauron was up to his vanilla play-calling best with the assortment of screens, short passes and counter plays.

Only time will tell if the Bills are as bad as most think they'll be and if the Patriots turn out to be as great as most (myself included) believe.

Shawn Nelson put Buffalo up 7-0 in the first quarter on an 11-yard catch from Edwards.

New Patriot Fred Taylor tied it in the second quarter with a 1-yard run.

Aaron Schobel (who Matt Light makes look like Reggie White) turned in the individual play of the game when he made a one-handed interception of a Brady pass in the second quarter and rumbled 26 yards for the score.

Every single time something bad happen to the Patriots, they'd zoom in on some yahoo fan with the look of someone that had just seen their team lose in the Super Bowl. Relax idiots. It's a long season and as far as a I know, we still have Bill Belichick (patrolling the sidelines in his customary cut-off hoodie) and Brady.

Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal at the end of the first half made it 14-10 Bills but the Patriots were lucky it was that close since they didn't convert on fourth down during their first drive and Gostkowski missed a 41-yard field goal.

Rian Lindell's 40-yard kick put the Bills up 17-10 in the third quarter and Gostkowski answered early in the fourth with a 28-yard kick which set the stage for the ridiculous ending.

If Mayo is out for an extended period of time, that's a big problem. For a defense that lost Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison in the offseason, its unclear who will be a playmaker for that defense. Especially one not named Mayo.

It should be another tight divisional game on Sunday afternoon as the Patriots travel to the Meadowlands to play the Jets. New York looked great in week 1, winning at Houston in Mark Sanchez's NFL debut. The Jets defense is good enough to shut New England down if they're offense doesn't work out the kinks this week in practice.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What is going on with Josh Beckett?


As sweet as the win Tuesday night was, last night left a bitter taste in Red Sox fans' mouths since Josh Beckett continued to scuffle (at the most important time of the season).

Tampa Bay won 8-5 last night at the Trop, evening the score in this vital series that the Rays (72-60) have to win.

Beckett was down 5-1 after three innings but he struck around long enough to go six respectable innings. He gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits with nine strikeouts.

Rays starter Matt Garza has had a forgettable season but he always seems to pick it up a notch vs. the Red Sox. He lasted 6.2 innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts.

One of the trademarks of Beckett not pitching well is the abundance of homers he gives up.

Carl Crawford hit a solo shot in the first. Jason Bay tied it with an RBI triple in the second. The Rays scored three times in the third: Pat Burrell (2 hits, 2 RBIs) hit a solo homer, Akinori Iwamura had an RBI single and Gregg Zaun (3 hits) scored on B.J. Upton's sacrifice.

Zaun's RBI double in the third made it 5-1 but the Red Sox slowly started to comeback. Two in the fourth on a David Ortiz groundout and a J.D. Drew RBI single cut it to 5-3.

Victor Martinez hit an RBI single in the seventh and pinch runner Joey Gathright (former Rays great) tied it in the eighth after J.P. Howell threw a wild pitch.

Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen blew it in the eighth as Burrell touched up Ramirez with a run scoring single and Evan Longoria blasted a two-run bomb on the first pitch from Delcarmen.

The rubber match tonight is between both team's promising young pitchers: Clay Buchholz vs. David Price. It's a meaningful one since a Boston win is up 2.5 games on the Rangers in the wild card and 5 on the Rays.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

We own the Rays (for one night)



Considering how one-sided the Rays-Red Sox battles have been in recent memory, last night was a promising start to what hopefully will be a pivotal series for Boston at Tropicana Field (good seats still available).

The Sox (77-54) looked like the better team and won 8-4 in game one of the three-game series. Their lead in the wild card stayed at 3.5 games over Texas and jumped to six games over Tampa Bay.

Jon Lester (11-7) pitched six solid innings before departing a little early with a minor groin strain. He stuck out nine and gave up two earned runs on seven hits and two walks.

Boston got some outstanding relief work from Billy Wagner, who pitched a 1-2-3 seventh (with two strikeouts) and Jonathan Papelbon, who recorded his first six out save of the season (his 33rd save overall; no hits, three strikeouts).

In between, Hideki Okajima made things tense as he gave up two runs on four hits (three bloopers) and a walk in the eighth. He couldn't get anyone out and Papelbon was forced to come in with the bases loaded and no outs in the inning. No problem as Pap picked his most impressive save of the season with a huge assist from Jacoby Ellsbury's diving catch on Jason Bartlett with one out in the eighth.

Tampa Bay (71-60) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first on Carlos Pena's RBI single.

The Sox tied it in the second on a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI single. J.D Drew hit a two-run bomb in the third and Kevin Youkilis made it 4-1 in the fourth with a sacrifice fly.

Pena cut it to 4-2 in the fourth with a solo homer but the Sox continued to do damage against Andy Sonnanstine (5 runs, 8 hits).

Jason Bay hit his 30th homer of the season in the fifth. Mike Lowell's sacrifice fly in the sixth and Youk's solo homer in the eighth gave them a 7-2 lead.

After the Rays cut it to 7-4 in the eighth, Ellsbury added an RBI triple for the final margin.