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Monday, April 30, 2012

Red Sox Try To Blow A 10-Run Lead But The A's Don't Comply With Them

For many reasons, the Oakland Athletics will never be confused with the New York Yankees. The main difference being that they can't hit.

In their last game at Fenway Park (Sat. April 21), the Red Sox blew a nine-run lead to the Yanks. Tonight, they returned home from their wildly successful road trip (6-1) and for a little while, Boston (11-11, 4-5 home) entertained the idea of choking away a 10-run lead against the A's (11-13, 5-6) but they thought better of it and won 11-6.

Boston has won seven of its last eight games overall.

The Red Sox snapped a five-game losing streak at Fenway as Clay Buchholz (3-1) continued to be a concern despite the fact that he keeps picking up cheap wins. He was handed the 11-1 advantage by the fifth inning but he quickly faded in the seventh by allowing Oakland's terrible lineup to score five runs in the frame. Buchholz went 6.2 innings, allowing six earned runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and five walks. He's been so bad that this crappy outing actually lowered his ERA a tad to 8.69.

After Junichi Tazawa couldn't get an out, Vicente Padilla recorded the final out of the seventh. Scott Atchison (1 out, 2 hits, walk) also wasn't on but Franklin Morales (2 outs) and Alfredo Aceves (3 outs) were able to wrap it up for Boston.

A's rookie lefty Tommy Milone (3-2) quickly discovered that this wasn't like facing the Mariners at spacious Safeco Field. In 4.2 innings, he allowed eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits with five strikeouts and a walk.

Cliff Pennington (Chad's brother?) had an RBI single in the top of the first but the Red Sox answered with four runs in the second, two in the third and five in the fifth which turned out to be more than enough.

David Ortiz (3 runs) started it all with a solo homer into Oakland's bullpen. Marlon Byrd (2 runs) and Mike Aviles had RBI singles and Aviles eventually scored on Jemile Weeks's throwing error.

In the third, Darnell McDonald's (3 runs, 3 hits) two-run homer (his 2nd of the season) hit the light tower over the Monster. The fifth is when it really got silly as Ortiz homered again (his 6th of the season), this time into Boston's bullpen along with former Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick who got a glove on it but couldn't catch the ball. He ended up flipping into the bullpen along with the baseball. Byrd added an RBI double and Aviles crushed a three-run bomb over the Monster (his 5th of the season).

Former Red Sox outfielders teamed up for Oakland's failed comeback attempt in the seventh. Two runs scored on Coco Crisp's (2 hits) weak single. Then Reddick (4th of the season) exacted some revenge with a three-run homer of his own, to right off Buchholz.

It is supposed to rain all day tomorrow but if they get the game in (7:10 p.m., NESN), Red Sox rookie Felix Doubront (1-0) faces A's rookie Jarrod Parker (0-0).

You Might Have Forgotten About Him But Gerard Warren Is Still Here

You know a football player is invisible when you completely forgot that he was on the roster.

No lie, when I read that Gerard Warren was re-signing with the Patriots, it made me think "he was on the team last season?" To my surprise, he played in 12 games last season as a reserve and had 12 tackles with a sack.

I'm not going to bash the guy since he's been a pro the last two seasons in New England. He's 33-years-old which is pretty long in the tooth but defensive tackle isn't the most athletic position which means that blobs like him can be durable compared to skilled position spots where you take many more rougher hits in a short period of time.

With Kyle Love and Myron Pryor in front of him, not to mention Vince Wilfork who is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, Warren figures to not see much of the field this season. There is also Ron Brace but he has been nothing but a bust since he was drafted so I'm done expecting anything from him. Pryor was out for almost all of last season though so it wouldn't be a shock to see Warren out there again this season.

Keep in mind too that New England didn't draft any new defensive linemen (only defensive ends) in the 2012 NFL Draft this past weekend so unless they sign more guys this summer, it looks like this group is set for the most part.

UPDATE 5/1: Other undrafted rookies signed yesterday by the Pats included Iowa offensive lineman Markus Zusevics, Miami defensive lineman Marcus Forston and South Florida guard Jeremiah Warren.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Celtics Lose 83-74 In Game 1; Same Old Rajon Rondo Gets Ejected & Likely Suspended

There is no other way to describe Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Celtics and Hawks: frustrating. Atlanta won 83-74 at Philips Arena but this being the NBA, an ejection overshadowed the actual play on the court.

Boston played terrible for most of the night; they were down 17 in the first quarter (29-12) and seemingly double-digits the entire game yet they cut it to four (78-74) with one minute left. That's when all hell broke loose. The C's were absolutely jobbed on what should have been a jump ball but instead was a foul call on Brandon Bass (8 points). Rajon Rondo (20 points, 11 assists, 4 steals) became so mad that he "accidentally" bumped into referee Marc Davis.

Rondo was ejected, the Hawks made some free throws and that was it. Except the fallout from another selfish and completely stupid act by Rondo putting himself ahead of the team will likely cost him Game 2 as well. The Celtics can't play any worse than tonight (offensively at least) but getting a win will be extra difficult if Rondo gets suspended for a game like everybody expects. I guess he didn't realize that he's Boston's best and most indispensable player.

Josh Smith (22 points, 18 rebounds) was a force for the Hawks while Jeff Teague (15 points) and Kirk Hinrich (12 points) played their roles to perfection. The scary part for Boston fans is that Joe Johnson (11 points) shot 3 for 15 from the floor including 0 for 9 on 3-pointers. There is no way he'll have another clunker like that.

Ray Allen was really missed by Boston, look no further than their 3-pointer numbers (0 for 11) to see how much of a difference he might have made. Paul Pierce (12 points, 6 assists) played but he might as well have not suited up since he was a detriment, going 5 for 19 from the floor. Luckily, the Celts never seemed to realize that he was ice cold. Old habits I guess. Kevin Garnett shook off a slow start of his own to get 20 points and 12 rebounds. Avery Bradley (10 points, 4 of 12 shooting) looked like a guy starting for the first time in an NBA playoff game. He wasn't a factor on defense either.

Greg Stiemsma had nine rebounds in 19 minutes but Atlanta's bench outscored Boston's 17-4. That number, coupled with the disparity in 3-pointers made (7-0) and rebounds (50-41) in the Hawks' favor were why they triumphed in front of their clueless "fans."

To say this was an ugly game would be doing a disservice to the world ugly. It was putrid, on both sides. Atlanta was up 31-18 after one quarter and 49-35 at halftime before they decided to make it close by turning it over non-stop. Boston rallied a bit in the third (18-16) and fourth (21-18) but their terrible start proved to be their main undoing.

With or without Rondo, in Game 2 (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., CSNE), the Celtics need two things: more offense and they can't fall behind so early by so much. Their defense was not an issue at all. I'm not calling it a must-win but coming back to Boston tied 1-1 would look a hell of a lot better than down 0-2.

UPDATE 4/30: Rondo was suspended for Game 2. Nice going Rajon.

Red Sox Fall in Series/Road Trip Finale To White Sox, 4-1

The Red Sox weren't able to complete a 7-0 road trip (or go over .500 for the first time this season) as they lost 4-1 to the White Sox this afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field. Boston's six-game win streak was snapped while Chicago ended its five-game losing streak.

Still, 6-1 is perfectly acceptable for Boston (10-11, 7-6 away) who scored one run for the second game in a row. The Red Sox combined for seven hits between Saturday and Sunday so clearly it's time to get back to Fenway Park. Josh Beckett (2-3) pitched fine but he was no match for Gavin Floyd (2-3) who no-hit the Red Sox for 6.1 innings before Dustin Pedroia broke it up with a single.

The White Sox got all the runs they would need in the first as Alex Rios knocked in Alejando De Aza with an RBI single and Adam Dunn (5th of the season) hooked a two-run shot to right.

To his credit, Beckett didn't allow another run and lasted 6.2 innings. He threw an insane 128 pitches (tying a career high), allowing three earned runs on six hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.

Floyd is a decent pitcher but for some reason, he steps it up to another level when he faces the Red Sox. In 6.2 innings, he allowed one earned run on three hits with nine strikeouts and a walk.

Cody Ross drove in Dustin Pedroia for the only Boston run, in the seventh but Chicago reliever Addison Reed was able to get Nick Punto to ground out with runners on first and third with two outs.

The Red Sox never threatened after that; Dayan Viciedo added an RBI single in the eighth off Junichi Tazawa but charged to Rich Hill (making his 2012 debut) and Matt Thornton retired the last four batters for his first save of the season.

After winning its first three games at Fenway this season, Boston lost its last five before they headed out of town following the Sunday rainout against the Yankees. Here's hoping that this homestand goes a little smoother and I don't see why it shouldn't since they play three against Oakland, an off-day then three against Baltimore. Both of those teams have overachieved so far, there's no way they'll keep this up (the Orioles particularly).

The A's (11-12) series begins tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) with Clay Buchholz (2-1) facing Tommy Milone (3-1). On Tuesday night aka May 1 (7:10 p.m., NESN), Felix Doubront (1-0) meets Jarrod Parker (0-0; making his third MLB start) and Daniel Bard (2-2) gets Brandon McCarthy (1-3) in the finale on Wednesday (7:10 p.m., NESN). Old friends Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp will return to face their former team and teammates.

Celtics-Hawks Begins Tomorrow Night In Atlanta

It seems like it's been weeks since the Boston Celtics fielded a full roster (relatively speaking) and/or played a meaningful game. That will all change tomorrow night (7:00 p.m., CSNE) as they begin their Eastern Conference first round series against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.

The 2012 NBA playoffs started this afternoon and already, we have what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest storylines of the postseason: Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL so he's done for the spring. That has a direct effect on this series too since the winner of Celtics-Hawks will most likely get the Bulls (who are up 1-0 on the Sixers) in the next round. Suddenly, a team that looked like the class of the Eastern Conference takes a huge step back without the 2010-11 NBA MVP.

Lest Celtics fans start to overlook the Hawks (who have home-court advantage), we only have to look back to four years ago when Atlanta went seven games with Boston in the first round. The C's won that bout and eventually became NBA champions that June but the Hawks are still a tough matchup.

I normally wouldn't reference that long ago but Atlanta's squad is mostly the same; ex-Celtic Joe Johnson is one of the NBA's best shooters and Josh Smith is the ultimate up and down player in the league. The good news for Boston is that Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia are both out for the series which gives the Celtics a big advantage inside (somewhere they don't normally dominate by any means).

The only injury concern for the Celts is Ray Allen's mysterious ankle injury. It scares me because it has seemingly become Kevin Garnett from 2009 or Shaq last season. The team downplays it and makes it seem like Ray could return at any time but until I see him on the court in a game, I won't believe it.

Look for a huge series from Rajon Rondo, there's no chance that Jeff Teague can shut him down for more than a game or two. Likewise, KG should play well against Smith and I expect Paul Pierce to win his matchup with Johnson since he's a better all-around player. The NBA playoffs usually come down to star power and nobody could debate that Boston can trump Atlanta in that category. Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass also give the C's some young energy that will want to prove themselves on the big stage.

Neither team's bench is good by any means but Boston's has started to make much more of an impact late in the regular season (probably because they got big minutes then). Tell me who you would rather have as your top reserves: Greg Stiemsma, Mickael Pietrus and Allen/Marquis Daniels/Sasha Pavlovic or Marvin Williams, Tracy McGrady and Ivan Johnson?

Game 2 is Tuesday (7:30 p.m., CSNE) in Atlanta before the series heads to Boston for Game 3 on Friday (7:30 p.m., CSNE) and Game 4 on Sunday (7:00 p.m., CSNE) at TD Garden.

With the Bruins getting bounced out of the playoffs last week sooner than any of us expected, the Celtics will get much more attention from Boston sports fans and media. This is a team that really played very well in the second half of the regular season and morphed into a darkhorse title contender. Plus, I know I said it last spring but this has to be the last run with the Big 4. Therefore, I don't expect them to go out quietly because they are full of pride and they are winners.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lester Outduels Peavy In An Instant Classic

Games like this are the reason that you flip to MLB on a cold April night, when there are so many other better sporting options (NHL playoffs and NBA playoffs) on television. Moreover, maybe it is MLB's way of rewarding its fans.

The Boston Red Sox (10-10, 7-5 away) climbed to .500 for the first time this season with a scintillating 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox (10-11, 3-7 home) at U.S. Cellular Field, their sixth consecutive victory overall.

It was a pitcher's duel as both teams combined for just 10 hits (6 for Chicago, 4 for Boston). Jon Lester (1-2) picked up his first win of the season despite the fact that Jake Peavy (3-1) was even slightly better than him. In seven innings (122 pitches, 78 strikes), Lester allowed five hits with seven strikeouts and a walk. Peavy went the distance-all nine innings-but he allowed one earned run on four hits with seven strikeouts and a walk.

The Red Sox' run came in the fourth thanks to Adrian Gonzalez's RBI single that scored Ryan Sweeney (2 hits).

Franklin Morales got the first two outs of the eighth before Vicente Padilla walked Paul Konerko (2 doubles) but forced Alex Rios to ground out with runners on first and second. Alfredo Aceves picked up his fifth save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth that included a strikeout.

Boston will look to complete a remarkable road trip at 7-0 tomorrow afternoon (2:10 p.m., NESN) as Josh Beckett (2-2) faces Gavin Floyd (1-3). Chicago should be desperate to get a win while the Red Sox look for the series sweep and perfect trip.

The 2012 NFL Draft Is Over: Mel Kiper Can Go Back Into His Cave Now

By the time the third and final day of the NFL Draft rolls around, who besides the paid professionals can muster enthusiasm anymore?

The New England Patriots made their final three selections today and as you'll see by their random resumes, they will be all long shots to make the 53-man roster in the regular season let alone do anything memorable. The Pats only had one pick, that is before they flipped it (5th round, 163 overall) to the Packers for three later picks.

Without further ado, say hello to Ohio State safety Nate Ebner (6th round, 197 overall), Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (7th round, 224 overall) and Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (7th round, 235 overall).

I'll sum up those three guys in a few sentences. Ebner was a former rugby player and walk-on for the Buckeyes that potentially could make it based on special teams. Dennard is pretty talented but he got arrested (assaulting an officer and resisting arrest) last week and also was ejected from a Bowl game in 2011 for fighting South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. Clearly, he's a bozo but Bill Belichick must think he's worth the risk (not that a seventh-round pick is much of a risk). Finally, Ebert was the leading receiver for the Wildcats the last two seasons and he's a white slot receiver that converted from quarterback in high school. In other words, he's Julian Edelman 2.0.

All seven members of the Patriots' Draft Class of 2012 are on Twitter so do yourselves a favor and give them a follow, that is if you're on Twitter yourself. Chandler Jones-@chanjones99; Dont'a Hightower-@zeus30hightower; Tavon Wilson-@TavonWilson3; Jake Bequette-@JakeBequette91; Nate Ebner-@Natebner34; Jeremy Ebert-@Jebes11.

It is dorky but definitely one of the best aspects of when the Celtics/Patriots/Red Sox/Bruins acquire a new player is to see if they are on Twitter. Most of these days, a majority from the NFL and NBA are on it. MLB is getting there but sadly NHL is still in the dark ages (only 1 Bruin-Tyler Seguin). It's the best way to connect to guys on your favorite teams.

UPDATE 4/29: The Patriots also signed rookie free agent Brad Herman, a tight end out of Iowa. The only shot he has to make the team is on the practice squad since New England has Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Daniel Fells all way ahead of him on the depth chart.

UPDATE 4/30: Kentucky wide receiver Matt Roark will join the Pats. He is yet another converted quarterback who also plays special teams and blocked seven kicks for the Wildcats (6 extra points, 1 field goal). I guarantee this scrub won't make it out of mini-camps or August. No chance.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Patriots Draft 2 Players I've Never Heard Of, At Least They're On Defense

For somebody that lives in Massachusetts and went to a college (Providence) that doesn't even have a football program, I think I watch more college football than can be reasonably expected. I'm no Mel Kiper or Todd McShay though, I have my limits so I can't pretend that I'd heard of either of the Patriots' picks tonight in the second and third round.

New England chose Illinois safety Tavon Wilson at No. 48 (second round). All I know is what other more informed media members said on Twitter or during the broadcast on ESPN; apparently, he's a project that wasn't expected to be selected nearly that high. He wasn't even invited to the combine. I guess Bill Belichick knows something about him we don't.

After trading down, the Pats other selection was Jake Bequette, a defensive end from Arkansas at No. 90 (late third round). Again, I'd never heard of this guy either although I saw a couple Razorbacks games the last few seasons. He sounds like a guy that can play multiple positions on the defensive line and get after the quarterback from time to time.

The overarching point is that New England has focused its first four picks in the 2012 Draft on defensive players which is fantastic. Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower were far more sexy picks yesterday but grabbing a safety and defensive end directly addresses two of the team's biggest weaknesses. The talent really starts to drop off in the third round and if you listened to Felger and Mazz this afternoon, they rattled off all the third-round picks the Patriots have drafted the last few seasons. All bums. That's why I can't get too excited about these Day 2 players. Maybe one of them will pan out but odds are at least one will be gone in a few years, having never made an impact (Tyrone McKenzie, Shawn Crable, etc.) in an actual game.

The 2012 NFL Draft concludes tomorrow with Rounds 4-7 (starting at 12:00 p.m. on ESPN). Don't expect too many moves out of Foxborough since they only have one remaining pick (5th round, 158 overall); if they only use one choice, it will be their smallest draft class in franchise history. Something to pay attention to.

Red Sox Continue To Feast On The AL Central

In this soft as puppy poo portion of their schedule, the Boston Red Sox are taking advantage of bad pitchers and mediocre teams.

The Red Sox (9-10, 6-5 away) won their fifth straight game, 10-3 tonight against the White Sox (10-10, 3-6 home) at U.S. Cellular Field.

Darnell McDonald (2 hits, 2 runs) knocked in a career-high four RBIs, Daniel Bard (2-2) picked up his first career win as a starting pitcher and David Ortiz (2 hits, 2 runs) shows no signs of slowing down as he slugged a two-run bomb.

On a frigid night (39 degrees) in the Windy City, Bard lasted seven innings: throwing 96 pitches, 63 for strikes. He allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits with six strikeouts and a walk. This was a fine start and quells talk of moving him back to the bullpen until his next outing and/or the next bullpen implosion.

John Danks (2-3) tried to be a hero in short sleeves and he was no match for Boston's deep lineup. In 5.2 innings, the lefty allowed seven earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts and four walks.

Many of the Red Sox wore ski masks aka head condoms but it didn't seem to affect them at the plate since they still managed to pile up 13 hits.

The White Sox showed a brief pulse in the beginning of the game as A.J. Pierzynski had an RBI double in the first. Ortiz (4th of the season) crushed his two-run homer to right in the second but Chicago added a run in the third on a passed ball and ageless Paul Konerko (5th of the season) had a solo home run to left in the fifth to make it 3-2.

The roof caved in on Danks quickly in the sixth as he coughed up five runs in the blink of an eye. Cody Ross (2 hits, 2 RBIs) began the rally with an RBI single then McDonald cleared the bases with a three-run double. Marlon Byrd (2 hits) added an RBI single.

Ross and Kelly Shoppach produced RBI singles in the seventh and finally, McDonald (1st of the season) hit a solo home run to center in the ninth.

Jon Lester (0-2) looks for his first win of the season tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) against Jake Peavy (3-0), who's off to a surprisingly great start. Lester has not been himself in his last few starts so maybe he can put it all together, that would be nice. Boston desperately needs an ace or something resembling a No. 1 or 2 starter. Peavy has been impressive but this is the same guy who looked washed up the last few seasons. Let's see if he can hold down this red-hot lineup.

Boston will also try to reach the .500 mark for the first time this season. Haha high stakes!

Earlier in the day, the Red Sox sent lefty reliever Justin Thomas down to Pawtucket while they recalled lefty Rich Hill. Hopefully the local guy (Milton, MA) can regain the form he showed last season before he got injured. Boston desperately needs another left-handed reliever not named Franklin Morales to match up with all the good lefties in the AL (Cano, Hamilton, Teixeira, Pena). Thomas was clearly in over his head, at least for now he can't hang that this level.

Someday Soon, Philip Humber Will Be A Great Trivia Answer

It's not a complaint but there was way too much quality sports related programming on TV tonight. I say that because I barely watched any of the Red Sox-White Sox game but I still saw the important stuff.

Boston (8-10, 5-5 away) opened the four-game series with a convincing 10-3 win at U.S. Cellular Field against the White Sox (10-9, 3-5 home).

The Red Sox won their fourth straight game (a tidy 4-0 road trip so far) with a blueprint for what they need to do to pile up victories this season: hit early and often. Eight of nine players in the lineup recorded hits and Boston used three home runs to overpower Philip Humber (1-1), who randomly threw a perfect game last Saturday.

With a rotation that looks shaky, the Red Sox will likely need to count on their many quality hitters to carry them through long portions of this season.

Humber looked nothing like the untouchable pitcher he was against Seattle (that might be a clue). In five innings, he allowed nine earned runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

Kevin Youkilis (3 hits, 2 runs) hit a grand slam while Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2 home runs, 3 RBIs) continued to heat up.

The best part is that Boston only needed to use two pitchers to get the job done which is a half or a third of what it usually takes to get through nine innings for this group. Felix Doubront (1-0) picked up his first win of the season with six solid innings. He allowed three earned runs on five hits with two strikeouts and three walks.

Junichi Tazawa pitched three scoreless innings in relief, punctuated by four strikeouts. He only allowed two hits with four strikeouts and no walks.

Adrian Gonzalez's RBI double and David Ortiz's RBI single in the first gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. Providence native Paul Konerko stroked an RBI double in Chicago's first at bats but Boston posted five more runs in the third inning. Youk (2nd of the season) hit the grand slam to right and Saltalamacchia (3rd of the season) went back-to-back with a solo shot to right.

A.J. Pierzynski had an RBI single in the third and Dayan Viciedo (2 hits) added a solo homer in the fourth that cut it to 7-3 Red Sox.

Saltalamacchia crushed a two-run homer to left center in the fifth and Ryan Sweeney (2 hits) provided the final run with an RBI single in the ninth that scored Mike Aviles (2 runs).

Daniel Bard (1-2) is back in as a starter (boo!) tomorrow night as he takes on John Danks (2-2) at 8:10 p.m. on NESN. Obviously, I want Bard to do well in whatever role he has but at this point, everybody can see that he would be most valuable to the Red Sox bullpen.

The only bad news of the day is that Carl Crawford's elbow problem could keep him out for up to three months. Not what the Red Sox needed to hear with both him and Ellsbury out for extended periods of the 2012 season.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Patriots Trade Up Twice In 1st Round, Grab 2 Defensive Studs

We all know that NFL mock drafts are one of the most useless exercises in sports but that is especially true when you consider the unpredictability of the New England Patriots.

Felger and Mazz had the right idea today as they literally threw highlighters at a draft board, that seems like as good a method as any to figure out what Bill Belichick and Co. will do in any given year.

With two picks in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, this appeared to be year that the Pats could finally take advantage of their spot rather than endlessly trading down as always. Still, nobody could have expected the haul they picked up. By making two trades up (their first two 1st round trade ups since 2003-Ty Warren), New England selected Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones at No. 21 and Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower at No. 25.

They dealt their first pick (No. 27) and a third-rounder to the Bengels to select Jones; for Hightower, they parted with the other first round pick (No. 31) and a fourth-rounder to the Broncos.

I can't tell you how exciting it was to see this team be aggressive, I think this validates the unspoken truth that Belichick and Tom Brady's championship window is rapidly closing. Rather than think about the future (next season like the Boston Globe's Greg Bedard wrote today), they went for the present. After all, this was a team that was a few plays away from another Super Bowl victory. Plus, most of that team will return next fall.

This addresses their two biggest needs: a guy that can rush the quarterback from the defensive end and another guy that can make plays all over the field while also pressuring the quarterback.

Ironically enough, even though it's way closer, I hardly ever paid attention to Syracuse football since they've been so bad the last few seasons. Therefore, I don't know much about Jones other than what I've read in the predraft hype. He's long and somewhat raw but he has plenty of potential. On the other hand, I watched a million of Hightower's games since Alabama has been the best team over the last three seasons (2 National Championships). He's a beast, similar to Brandon Spikes. That's why I love that move, he's a tough football player that is also a big-time winner.

At 6 feet 5, 266 pounds, Jones played in seven games last season for Syracuse as a junior, missing five games with a knee injury suffered in the season opener against Wake Forest. He recorded 4.5 sacks on the season, as well as 38 total tackles (7.5 for a loss) and two forced fumbles.

Jones played in 13 games as a sophomore in 2010, notching 57 tackles (9.5 for a loss), three forced fumbles, and four sacks. As a freshman in 2009, Jones had 52 tackles in 12 games, including 10 tackles for losses, in addition to 1.5 sacks.

A native of Endicott, N.Y., Jones was a first-team All-Big East selection last season.

Last season, Hightower was a defensive captain for the national champion Crimson Tide, a consensus first-team All-American selection by the Associated Press, a second-team All-SEC selection and a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Chuck Bednarik, Butkus Award and Lott Trophy.

He started 12 games at middle linebacker for Alabama in 2011, leading the team with 85 tackles (11 for losses), four sacks, eight quarterback hits, one interception and one forced fumble.

Hightower is a native of Lewisburg, Tenn., and played at Marshall County High School.

Both Chandler and Hightower were juniors last season.

After trading their third-round (93rd overall) and fourth-round (126th overall) picks in the pair of first-round deals, the Patriots have only their two second-round picks (No. 48 and 62 overall) remaining in this draft. I would expect them to execute more trades tomorrow (down) so that they can accumulate more picks. I'm fine with that after the incredible work they put together tonight.

Enjoy these highlights of the two newest Patriots:

Finally, The NBA Playoffs Are Upon Us

The Boston Celtics (39-27, 24-9 home) closed out the regular season with an 87-74 win vs. the Milwaukee Bucks (31-35, 14-19 away) this evening at TD Garden.

The Atlanta Hawks beat the Dallas Mavericks so Boston will travel to Atlanta for Game 1 of their first round series on Sunday night (tip-off at 7:00 p.m.). More on that this weekend when I do a series preview (hint: the Celts should win).

Avery Bradley led the C's with 14 points, Paul Pierce had 12 points and Rajon Rondo had 15 assists (his 24th straight game with double-digit assists). The bench got plenty of minutes with Ryan Hollins (9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks), Mickael Pietrus (9 points) and E'Twaun Moore (8 points, 5 assists) standing out the most.

Tobias Harris paced the Bucks with a game-high 16 points and nine rebounds. Jon Leuer had 15 points and eight rebounds, Brandon Jennings scored 12 points and Mike Dunleavy added 10 points off the bench.

It seems like forever since I paid attention to an NBA game, specifically the Celtics so this weekend will be a welcome change. The playoffs start on Saturday afternoon with games all day and night. As much as I bash the NBA regular season, the playoffs are routinely pretty awesome.

Zdeno Chara Named A Norris Trophy Finalist

The timing of it sucks but today, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was named one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy, handed out to the league's best defenseman.

He joins Nashville's Shea Weber and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson as nominees for the award which will be handed out June 20 in Las Vegas at the NHL awards ceremony.

Chara's a five-time Norris Trophy finalist (fourth time in five years he's been nominated) and he won it in 2009. Surprisingly of this group, only Chara's team is currently out of the 2012 NHL playoffs. Karlsson and the Senators face the Rangers tonight in Game 7 while Weber's Predators have already advanced to the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Chara had a career-high 52 points this season (12 goals, 40 assists), fourth-best among all defensemen, and tied for third among all players with a plus-33. Chara, 35, played his 1,000th game in March and was a captain at the 2012 All-Star Game.

Karlsson, 21, broke out this season with 78 points -- 25 more than any other defenseman, and tying him for 10th-most among all players.

He had 59 assists, best among the league's defenders, and tied with Weber with 19 goals.

Weber, 26, had a career-best 49 points, tying him for sixth in the league overall, and scored 10 goals on the league's top power-play unit. His average ice time of 26 minutes, 9 seconds was fifth-most in the league.

Weber was a Norris finalist last season, finishing second in voting to Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom.

I don't really have a feel for how this will shake out. You can make a case for any of the three players although I don't think that Karlsson deserves it as much as Chara and Weber since he's all offense and doesn't play a lick of defense (you know, a defenseman's main job). This award should be about the best all-around defenseman. In that case, Chara and Weber are basically even.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Red Sox Pick Up First Sweep Since July 22-24

I can't say I could concentrate on the few innings of the game that I watched (since the Bruins' season ended abruptly) but the Boston Red Sox did something tonight that they hadn't accomplished since July 22-24, 2011: they swept a three-game series!

It took the lowly Minnesota Twins (5-14, 2-7 home) to accomplish the modest feat but hey, the Red Sox (7-10, 4-5 away) will take it at this point. Boston wrapped it up with a 7-6 victory at Target Field.

Clay Buchholz (2-1) and the Red Sox were ahead 7-1 in the sixth but they nearly gave it all away as the Twins scored five runs in the frame to cut it to 7-6. Matt Albers was able to get the last two outs of the sixth then Vicente Padilla (1-2-3 seventh), Franklin Morales (1-2-3 eighth) and Alfredo Aceves (4th save) were able to calm things down and avoid a meltdown like the one on Saturday against the Yankees. Granted, Aceves loaded the bases in the ninth but he struck out Denard Span (2 hits) to end it.

It's a joke that Buchholz has a winning record even this early since he has been nothing short of awful. In 5.1 innings of work, he allowed five earned runs on 10 hits with two strikeouts and three walks.

Luckily for him, he faced Minnesota rookie Liam Hendriks (0-1), who at this pace won't be in MLB for very long. Hendriks was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits in four innings with three strikeouts and two walks.

Boston opened with four runs in the second on a Cody Ross RBI single and Mike Aviles' three-run homer to left (his fourth of the season).

Alexi Casilla (3 hits, run) knocked in Ben Revere with a single in the second to cut it to 4-1 but Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a two-run single in the third and Adrian Gonzalez knocked in Dustin Pedroia (2 runs, 3 hits-2B,3B) with an RBI single in the fifth to make it 7-1 Red Sox.

Minnesota's five-run sixth came on an RBI double by Span, Joe Mauer's two-run single, Justin Morneau's RBI double and Trevor Plouffe's RBI single.

There is no off-day tomorrow as Boston visits Chicago to face the White Sox (10-8) for four games at U.S. Cellular Field. Tomorrow night (8:10 p.m., NESN), Felix Doubront (0-0) faces Philip Humber (1-0) who is coming off of a perfect game on Saturday against the Mariners. Daniel Bard (1-2) faces John Danks (2-2) on Friday night, Jon Lester (0-2) gets Jake Peavy (3-0) on Saturday night and the series ends on Sunday afternoon with Josh Beckett (2-2) vs. Gavin Floyd (1-3).

I feel like the Red Sox always have trouble in Chitown but at least they've seemingly started to figure things out over the last few days.

Capitals End Bruins' Season With 2-1 OT Win In Game 7

In many ways, an exit like this was bound to happen. By losing Game 5 on home ice and going down 3-2 in the series, the Boston Bruins effectively took away any leverage they had in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals. They won Game 6 in overtime but still, all the pressure was on them. The Caps had absolutely nothing to lose and nobody believing in them and that's what fueled them to an improbable upset.

Following the familiar pattern from the rest of the series, Game 7 turned out to be a one-goal game (for the seventh time, an NHL record) and it also went to overtime (for the fourth time). Unfortunately for the B's and their fans, the Caps ended their season with a 2-1 OT win tonight at TD Garden.

After Patrice Bergeron couldn't shoot a fluttering puck past Braden Holtby (31 saves), moments later Joel Ward (1st of the playoffs) followed up a rebound by ex-Bruin Mike Knuble and put it past Tim Thomas (25 saves) at 2:57. The whole play started when Benoit Pouliot failed to properly dump the puck into the Washington zone. Knuble was able to block it with his body then skate in on an odd-man rush.

Seeing your favorite team's season end is never easy, especially when you feel like they left money on the table so to speak. Yes the Caps played better than the B's in the series, that's a fact since they went 3-1 on the road. Still, I find it hard to accept that the Bruins aren't a better team when they put it all together. Sadly, they never really looked like themselves for most of this series. That's what happens when you score one goal in four different games.

This series followed some weird patterns: three 4-3 games, three 2-1 games, one 1-0 game. Boston went 2-1 in Washington. The two main reasons that Boston lost were its beyond pathetic power play (2 for 23 in the entire series) and the disappearance of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Brad Marchand for long stretches of games.

The Bruins lost three of the last four games (two on home ice); they were outscored 16-15 while the first and last two games of the series all went to overtime. Boston won the first game but lost the all important final one which meant everything.

Another big factor was that Holtby vs. Thomas was a wash at best, actually check that. The 22-year-old rookie was a hair better than the guy that won the Vezina trophy and Conn Smythe award last season.

The alarming part about Game 7 was that the Bruins came out with hardly any emotion or jump, it was like they forgot this was such an important game. Sitting Shawn Thornton in favor of Jordan Caron for the second straight game probably didn't help in that regard either.

Washington took advantage as Matt Hendricks scored his first career playoff goal by tipping John Carlson's shot from the point at 11:23 of the first period. Jason Chimera had the second assist although it should have gone to Looch who started the whole Benny Hill play by overskating the puck along the boards in his own end.

Other than Dennis Seidenberg, who was Boston's best player all series, Tyler Seguin had a very solid Game 7. He punctuated it with the tying goal at 14:27 of the second period, his second of the series. He followed Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk's shots as Holtby left the rebound in the crease and Seguin swooped in to tap it before he was crushed.

There hasn't been a repeat Stanley Cup champion since the Red Wings in 1997-98. The Bruins followed suit of recent history as they became the seventh winner in the last nine years to bomb out in the first round of the playoffs.

I think the only way to look at that is it has become such a grind to survive and win a Stanley Cup that teams naturally have big hangover effects at some point in the next season. Once the playoffs roll around, that squad is naturally more beat up and fatigued mentally and physically.

Don't get me wrong, this is not an excuse. The Bruins should have beaten the Capitals mainly because they are a superior team. The problem was that they didn't show that at any point. They never had a two-goal lead and rarely had a one-goal lead for that matter which only fed into Washington packing it in and playing the defensive game that they wanted after they grabbed a lead.

It will be a much longer and probably more interesting offseason for the Black and Gold. I wouldn't be shocked to see them try to trade Thomas to get some high-end offensive talent. Lord knows they could use it at this point. I love Thomas but how many more great years does he have left in him? Plus, they have Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings and how much longer will he be content as Thomas' backup?

After winning three Game 7s in their magical run last spring, this felt exactly like 2008 (losing Game 7 to Montreal), 2009 (losing Game 7 to Carolina) or 2010 (losing Game 7 to Philadelphia) for the Bruins. Most of all, I'm just sad to have no more rooting interest left in the NHL playoffs. There's nothing better than them in any professional sport; I will still watch but it will only frustrate me when I see all the teams continue to advance that I know the Bruins could have potentially gotten past.

3 New Patriots Hall Of Fame Nominees: Troy Brown, Bill Parcells & Fred Marion

Today, the New England Patriots unveiled their three nominees for the Patriots Hall of Fame class of 2012: former wide receiver Troy Brown (1993-2007), former head coach Bill Parcells (1993-1996) and former safety Fred Marion (1982-1991).

It is Brown's first year of eligibility, while it is the first time Marion was nominated and the second year in a row that Parcells has been selected as a finalist.

Earlier this month, the three candidates were chosen by a 17-member nomination committee. Since 2007, the three nominations by this committee have been put to a fan vote to decide the inductee into the team's hall of fame. Fans can vote for who they think is the most deserving candidate on the team's website through May 31, 2012. The winner and inductee will be announced in June.

Last year, fans chose quarterback Drew Bledsoe as the 17th inductee into the Patriots' hall of fame.

First things first, he played before my time but I've honestly never heard of Marion so thanks for everything Fred but you're not getting in this year. I think Brown will run away with it since maybe some old-timers will have hard feelings about Parcells leaving Foxborough after only a few seasons. More importantly, Brown was here for his entire career-a much longer span of time.

Regardless, make sure you vote on and stay tuned to see who will be the latest inductee. You really can't go wrong with either Brown or Parcells. Eventually they will both be in there, it's only a matter of time. Although, now that most of the players from the dynasty years are retired, there will be a real bumper crop of deserving candidates. Maybe to ease up the process, they'll allow more than one induction per season. We shall see.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Red Sox Win A Laugher Over The Twins, 11-2

Can you imagine how many games the Red Sox would win every season if they played in the AL Central?

That's all I can think about after they pounded the Minnesota Twins (5-13, 2-6 home) 11-2 tonight at Target Field for their second consecutive win in the series. The funny part is that the Twins aren't even the worst team in their division, that would be the Royals who have already lost 12 straight.

If Boston (6-10, 3-5 away) played Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota and Kansas City way more every year, it wouldn't even be entertaining. I guess in a perverse way, I'm happy that they are the AL East-still MLB's best division-since I enjoy good competition. Blowouts might be cool when you are a kid but not when you get older.

Led by new lead-off hitter extraordinaire Mike Aviles (4 hits, 3 runs, 2 RBIs), the Red Sox pounded out 18 hits meaning that they have 30 over the last two nights. Adrian Gonzalez was 3-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs, David Ortiz had three RBIs, two hits and a run while Ryan Sweeney (run, RBI), Kevin Youkilis and Marlon Byrd (run) all had two hits. Dustin Pedroia scored two runs.

Josh Willingham (who's going on paternity leave tomorrow) had two doubles, Denard Span had two hits and Jamey Carroll scored twice.

Josh Beckett (2-2) was staked to a 3-0 lead in the first and he benefited from two more in the third and two more in the fourth against Nick Blackburn (0-2). The Texas Toughguy struggled with his command and lost his composure with home plate umpire Adrian Johnson but only allowed one run in the first despite throwing nearly 40 pitches.

After an even 100 pitches, Beckett was done after six innings. He allowed two earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

Blackburn was rocked; in three innings, he allowed five earned runs on eight hits with two strikeouts and a walk.

Sweeney and Ortiz had RBI singles in the first and Cody Ross drove in a run with a ground out. Justin Morneau got a run back by walking with the bases loaded in the home half of the first but Beckett managed to strike out Ryan Doumit and get Danny Valencia to ground out. Commence barking at Johnson.

The Red Sox really opened it up as Ortiz crushed a two-run homer to right in the third, his third of the season, then Aviles roped a solo shot just fair to left in the following frame to make it 6-1. Gonzalez also had an RBI single in the fourth.

Aviles, Pedroia and Gonzalez all had RBI doubles in the fifth before the Twins finally scored another lone run in the fifth on Willingham's RBI double.

Pinch hitter Lars Anderson scored in the eighth on Darnell McDonald's (another pinch hitter) ground out.

This was exactly what the Red Sox needed after last night's nail-biter, an easy win against an overmatched opponent. Their lineup dominated, Beckett worked through some early trouble and the only relievers used were Scott Atchison and Matt Albers.

Boston will go for the sweep tomorrow night with another pitching matchup that really favors them: Clay Buchholz (1-1) faces rookie Liam Hendriks (0-0). Yes, Buchholz has been awful and no I don't know one thing about Hendriks but this is a layup against a pathetic lineup and team. It is a game that Clay has to win if he wants to start getting his season on the right path.

Celtics Beat The Heat For The Third Time In April

Hey, did you ever wonder how the Celtics (minus Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen & Rajon Rondo) would do against the Heat (without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh)? Me neither but that dumpster fire happened tonight at TD Garden with Boston (38-27, 23-9 home) prevailing 78-66 over Miami (46-19, 18-14 away).

All you need to know about this mostly meaningless game, the second to last one of the regular season, was that Sasha Pavlovic was the game's leading scorer with 16 points. Marquis Daniels (13 points) was the other Celtic to score in double figures. Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley all had eight points while Keyon Dooling and E'Twaun Moore scored seven apiece.

For the Heat, former blob Dexter Pittman had 12 points and James Jones put up 11 off the bench. Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers both scored eight points as well.

I could quibble with why Pierce played tonight (only 18 minutes) but that would make my head hurt too much. My only rationale is that he'll sit out the regular season finale on Thursday against Milwaukee while maybe KG and Rondo will get some run.

The only reason that the Bucks game deserves any mention is that the Celts are only one game behind Atlanta going into their final contests. The Hawks (39-36) host the Mavericks on Thursday night. If Boston wins and Atlanta loses, the C's will have home-court since they own the tiebreaker. Otherwise, they'll have to start their first round series in the ATL.

Tonight and Thursday will serve as a reminder why nobody pays attention to NBA preseason games, they're brutal. Bring on the playoffs!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Red Sox Snap A 5-Game Losing Streak With Come-From-Behind Win In Minnesota

Well for one night at least, we don't have to bitch and complain about the Red Sox. Joy!

Boston (5-10, 2-5 away) began a seven-game road trip by winning 6-5 tonight against Minnesota (5-12, 2-5 home) at Target Field.

Cody Ross (3 RBIs) slugged two home runs, Daniel Bard (1-2) was successful in his first appearance out of the bullpen (2 key outs) and Alfredo Aceves nailed down his third save of the season to help the Red Sox snap an ugly five-game losing streak.

Jon Lester had his second straight bad start in a row although this one was nothing compared to the disaster against the Rangers last week. He was up 3-0 and cruising in the fourth when Ryan Doumit (2 hits) hit a two-run double to left then the immortal Danny Valenica (1st of the season) cranked a two-run bomb to left center.

Lester was up to 105 pitches entering the seventh so I had no idea why he was still in when it was tied 5-5 but the head-scratching move turned out fine. He got a 1-2-3 frame and his outing was complete with seven full innings of five earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts and four walks.

In the first, Adrian Gonzalez gave Boston a 1-0 lead with his third sacrifice fly of the season, driving in Mike Aviles. In the third, Jarrod Saltlamacchia (2 runs, 2 hits) reached down and golfed a two-run shot (his 2nd of the season) to left off Jason Marquis.

The Twins scored their other run in the fifth when Jamey Carroll grounded into a double play. That ended up being a turning point since Minnesota had runners on first and third with no outs. The best part of Lester's uneven performance was that he forced three double plays.

It was only a matter of time before the Red Sox found a way to score some more runs against Marquis (6.1 innings, 5 earned runs, 11 hits, 3 strikeouts), a journeyman starting pitcher. It turned out that Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire-one of the best in MLB-gave them an assist by leaving him in too long. He served up a two-run homer by Ross into the upper deck in left in the seventh which tied it at five.

After Carroll's single turned into a triple on a throwing error by Ryan Sweeney (2 hits), Franklin Morales retired Joe Mauer (2 hits) for the first out of the eighth. That's when Bard was summoned. No pressure. He responded by getting Josh Willingham to line out. Justin Morneau was intentionally walked (great decision) and he was able to get Doumit to pop out to end the threat.

Ross added a solo shot, his fifth of the season, in the ninth against Twins closer Matt Capps (0-1), in a non-save situation. Ross is a dead pull hitter but he hit that the opposite way, over the right field fence.

Some Red Sox writers thought Bard would start the ninth but Bobby Valentine stuck with his embattled closer. It paid off as Aceves worked around a single for the save. There was one dicey moment as Trevor Plouffe's fly ball appeared to have the distance to get out off the bat but thankfully it died on the warning track.

Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz also had two hits each for the Red Sox.

Boston will look to get another winning streak started tomorrow night as Josh Beckett (1-2) faces Nick Blackburn (0-1) at 8:10 p.m. on NESN.

Patrice Bergeron Named 1 of 3 Finalists For 2012 Selke Award (Defensive Forward)

A little Bruins nugget to tide you over until their biggest game of the season on Wednesday night-Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals vs. the Capitals at TD Garden.

Today, Patrice Bergeron was named one of three finalists for the Selke Award (defensive forward) at the 2012 NHL Awards. For the second straight year, that celebration will be held June 20 in Las Vegas, NV (sick!) but the house band is also Nickelback (again, puke!). The winner is selected by a vote of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and will be presented at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas.

For years, Bruins fans have always felt that Bergeron was one of the top two-way centers in the NHL and this nomination only illustrates that it is the view league-wide too, not just a regional bias.

The other two nominees are St. Louis Blues center David Backes and Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk.

From's press release:

Besides his team-high totals of 24 goals and 54 points, Backes led Blues forwards with an average ice time of 19:59 while posting a plus-15 rating. He started just 46 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, the second-fewest of any Blues forward who played at least 10 games, but finished 52.4 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, meaning he was able to turn defense into offense better than any player on the team. He also led all NHL forwards in advanced metrics website Behind the Net's Quality of Competition rating, meaning the players he skated against had the highest average plus/minus rating.

He led the team with 226 hits and all Blues forwards with 72 blocked shots, while his 50 takeaways were second on the team. He won just 48.6 percent of his faceoffs, but took the most on the team at 1,353.

The Blues were the League's best defensive team, allowing just 1.60 goals per game. Much of that had to do with goaltending, but the team allowed a League-low 26.7 shots per game, meaning skaters like Backes had a big role in that defensive excellence.

In addition to finishing second on the team with 64 points, Bergeron was at his best in the faceoff circle, finishing second in the League by winning 59.3 percent of his draws. He was especially strong on faceoffs while shorthanded, winning 53.5 percent of his faceoffs while killing a penalty, and he led Bruins forwards in shorthanded ice time at 1:48 per game. He also took 34.6 percent of all Boston faceoffs, the sixth-highest percentage of any player in the League.

He led the League with a plus-36 rating, and did it while playing 18:34 per game and picking up just 20 penalty minutes. He also led all Bruins forwards with 67 blocked shots and 55 takeaways. And among forwards who played at least 30 games, his 1.73 on-ice plus/minus per 60 minutes at even strength was third among all NHL forwards -- he was on the ice for 66 goals for and 34 goals against at even strength.

Datsyuk is a perennial contender for the Selke, and with good reason. Besides scoring at leat 65 points for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, he was 10th in the League in faceoffs, winning 56.2 percent, while taking 32.0 percent of all Red Wings faceoffs. He was third among all League forwards with 97 takeaways. Datsyuk was second among the team's forwards in average ice time per game at 19:34, but had a plus-21 rating and just 14 penalty minutes, the fewest of his career. He also played 1:13 per game shorthanded.

And according to Behind the Net's QoC, Datsyuk faced the second-hardest competition among Red Wings players, behind only defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

He had his three-year Selke win streak snapped last year when Vancouver's Ryan Kesler won it. If Datsyuk wins his fourth Selke, he would tie Bob Gainey for the most in history.

Bergeron got hurt in Game 5 on Saturday and had to leave the game but he played in Game 6 and there's no doubt that he'll suit up for Game 7. He's such a special player, just look at Bruins head coach Claude Julien's comments about him after yesterday's overtime win. We're lucky to have him on the B's, he represents basically everything that is right in professional sports. He does his job, respects the game, his teammates, coaches and opponents and seems like a nice guy off the ice as well. He wasn't able to take any face-offs yesterday (because of his upper body injury) but when he had to take one late in the third period, in Boston's own end, he of course won it.

We all know that awards are meaningless when your team falls short in the playoffs (what up Vancouver Canucks?) but if the Bruins can make a run once again and Bergeron can pick up the Selke Award, it will be quite an accomplishment. Remember that Tim Thomas picked up the Vezina Award (not to mention Conn Smythe) last season while Zdeno Chara got the Norris Trophy. Let's hope for another May and June dominated by the Black and Gold.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tyler Seguin Scores In Overtime, Bruins Force Game 7 Back In Boston

It is only right that a series that has been so insanely close from Game 1 to Game 6, would end with the ultimate finale: Game 7 at TD Garden.

The Bruins still never make it easy on themselves but they pulled out a 4-3 overtime win this afternoon at the Verizon Center in D.C. to force Game 7 on Wednesday night (time TBA). Tyler Seguin scored his first goal of the playoffs off a pretty play from Milan Lucic (2 assists) and David Krejci (1 goal, 1 assist) as Boston blew three separate one-goal leads but still prevailed.

Krejci intercepted a bad clearing pass by the Capitals and fed Lucic, who took a hit but released the puck right on time to Seguin. The second-year player was able to beat his defender to the outside then work around Braden Holtby (27 saves). It was a goal-scorer's move that few other guys on the Bruins could possibly make let alone execute in that type of high-stakes game situation.

This series which wasn't that anticipated coming in, has been nothing short of a classic (haha assuming the B's win Game 7). Each game has been decided by one goal (first time in NHL history that the first 6 games have been like that): there have been three 4-3 games, two 2-1 games and one 1-0 game. If that's not enough, this was the third time in six games that they have needed overtime. Basically, if you make it through this series as a Bruins fan without suffering a heart attack, you are in damn good shape.

The Bruins have only played with a lead twice this series (Game 3, Game 6), they've scored first only twice (Game 1, Game 6) and this will be the fifth time in their last six playoff series that they've gone seven games.

It's easy to look back in hindsight because they won but this would have been a particularly brutal way to lose (and crash out of the playoffs) since Boston had two golden opportunities right away in OT: Zdeno Chara had Holtby way out of position but he wasn't able to get a shot off. Then Patrice Bergeron tipped a shot off the crossbar.

The B's played with urgency from the start, illustrated by the fact that Rich Peverley (3rd of the playoffs) scored 5:56 into the first period. He tipped in Andrew Ference's shot from the point with the banged up Bergeron picking up the other assist.

Washington responded less than four minutes later as Mike Green (1st of the playoffs) banked a shot off Greg Zanon's leg and past Tim Thomas (36 saves). It was a bad break, the kind that the Caps have seemingly taken advantage of all series long.

Krejci (1st of the playoffs) scored a power-play goal at 16:48 of the first period from Lucic and Peverley. It was definitely a shot that Holtby would like back since the puck hit him in the chest area but still squirted by him. Regardless, it was huge for the Bruins to get Krejci on the scoresheet and on the man-advantage no less (their second of the series and in as many games).

The Caps tied it two with 42 seconds left in the second period on a bizarre play. Brad Marchand spun and took a flop in Washington's defensive zone, trying to get a call, but he didn't and the Capitals ended up with a rush up the other end. Nicklas Backstrom found Jason Chimera (1st of the playoffs) with a pretty backhand saucer pass that the goon just had to tap in. Dennis Seidenberg was caught behind Chimera and Thomas sold out thinking Backstrom would shoot. People freaked out on Twitter that it should have been a penalty but honestly, Marchand can't pull that type of Montreal Canadiens type crap. Hopefully he'll learn from that mistake.

Ference (1st of the playoffs) scored a clutch goal at 11:57 of the third, following up a rebound from Seguin's shot. Unfortunately, Thomas gave up a soft goal to Alex Ovechkin (2nd of the playoffs) at 15:08 to tie it up once again and eventually force overtime. Yes, Boston gave Ovechkin a ton of space in the shooting lane but he didn't exactly rip it. The puck went through Thomas' five hole, much like Troy Brouwer's game-winner in Game 5, it was one that Thomas has to stop if the Bruins are going to advance.

Thank God that these teams and the fans get a couple days off before Game 7. If they played again tomorrow or even Tuesday, they would be dead. After playing two wild 4-3 games the last two days, we all get a chance to take a breath and allow the proper hype and buildup for what should be an awesome Game 7.

Joe Corvo missed today's game with a knee injury so Mike Mottau took his place. The other Boston move was replacing Shawn Thornton with Jordan Caron. Plus, Tuukka Rask was Thomas' backup for the first time in the series.

Clearly, Wednesday night will almost certainly be a one-goal game. I would be shocked if it's not very tight either way. Overtime is a real possibility too. Beyond that, who knows? There is nothing better than a Game 7 in the NHL playoffs so let's all enjoy it as much as possible. You can never be sure who will step up and be the hero or likewise, be the goat. Boston is 1-2 at home so far but I can guarantee that the Garden will be electric on Wednesday. As always in big games, the Bruins will rely on their leaders: Thomas, Chara and Bergeron to set the tone. If they all play like they are capable of, the B's will be hard to beat.

UPDATE 4/24: Bruins-Capitals Game 7 on Wednesday will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Red Sox-Yankees Series Finale Rained Out, Daniel Bard Headed Back To The Bullpen

As expected, tonight's Red Sox-Yankees game (slated to be Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN) was cancelled this afternoon since it has poured all day in Boston. No word on when the game will be made up later in the season.

Frankly, this is the best thing that could happen to the Red Sox, who've dropped five in a row. They avoid another loss to the Yankees and more importantly, they can get out of Fenway Park and away from all the (deserved) negativity. They head to the Midwest for three games against the Minnesota Twins (5-11) then four games next weekend in Chicago against the White Sox (9-6).

The other big piece of news is that Daniel Bard has been moved back to the bullpen. The Red Sox say it's only temporary but come on, give me a break. How many times do guys get bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen during the regular season? Although, I wouldn't put it past Bobby Valentine to do something stupid like that. Putting Bard back in his normal role: setup man or even closer should help the bullpen immensely.

It will give them someone else that Valentine can count on whereas now there is almost nobody that is reliable. I never understood why Boston's front office wanted Bard to be in the rotation as a fourth or fifth starter. That seems counterproductive since I feel like an elite setup man or closer is much more valuable. Have they learned nothing from the Yankees' mismanagement of Joba Chamberlain?

No word on how they'll fill Bard's spot in the rotation, for now with the rainout today, they're simply skipping him. Look for Aaron Cook to be called up from Pawtucket next week at some point, that's my best guess. He's been pitching well there so far.

At Target Field, Jon Lester (0-2) tries for his first win of the season tomorrow night (8:10 p.m., NESN) against Minnesota's Jason Marquis (1-0). Josh Beckett (1-2) faces Nick Blackburn (0-1) on Tuesday night and Clay Buchholz (1-1) gets rookie Liam Hendriks (0-0) on Wednesday night.

One other roster move: the Red Sox have put Jason Repko on the DL with a shoulder injury and called up Lars Anderson from the PawSox. With Adrian Gonzalez in front of him, Anderson will always be a backup first basemen so I guess he's been playing in the outfield for Pawtucket. If nothing else, Anderson gives Bobby V some more depth on the bench in terms of pinch-hitting for the next few weeks.

Marlon Byrd Is Here To Save The Red Sox

Twitter absolutely blew up this afternoon in Boston with reports that the Red Sox were close to acquiring Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd. It's not big news but it gives us something positive to talk about.

Well after today's nightmare of a loss, Boston made it official as they dealt reliever Michael Bowden and a player to be named later to Chicago for Byrd and cash considerations.

I was shocked how many people weren't into this move; granted Byrd is nothing special but have they seen who's been patrolling the outfield at Fenway? Jason Repko, Nate Spears, Darnell McDonald. All fringe Major Leaguers at best. Byrd was an All-Star only two years ago with the Cubs and he has the ability to play center field.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford won't be back for a while so Byrd should be an adequate stop gap until the stars return. In 10 MLB seasons (Phillies, Nationals, Rangers, Cubs), Byrd has 1040 hits, 516 runs, 81 home runs with 438 RBIs. His career splits are .278 batting average/.337 OBP/.416 SLG.

Keep in mind that Bowden (who was recently designated for assignment) is useless and he was never going to do anything for the Red Sox plus the Cubs forked over most of Byrd's salary. So what's not to like about this move? It's basically no-risk and they could get some decent production out of Byrd, who should be motivated to perform for his new club.

2009 and 2010 were his best seasons. With Texas in 2009, he had 20 home runs and 89 RBIs with a split of .283 batting average/.329 OBP/.479 SLG. He made his only All-Star appearance in 2010 with the Cubs. He set career-highs with 84 runs and 170 hits. His power numbers went down (12 homers, 66 RBIs) but he became more selective at the plate (.293 batting average/.346 OBP).

To make room on the roster for Byrd, Spears was designated for assignment. Let the Marlon Byrd experience begin!

Apparently 9-Run Leads Aren't What They Used To Be

Leave it to the Red Sox to make New England sports fans even more depressed after the Bruins lost Game 5 to the Capitals earlier this afternoon.

The Yankees (9-6, 5-3 away) tied a franchise record for the biggest comeback ever as they recovered from being down nine runs to pull out a 15-9 win vs. the shell-shocked Red Sox (4-10, 3-5) at Fenway Park.

Boston's fifth straight loss of the season was one of the most insane defeats that I've ever seen, from the team that wrote the book on improbable losses.

I made the mistake of having dinner after Boston was up 9-1 in the sixth, I almost couldn't believe it when I flipped on the radio to find out that New York had pulled to within 9-8 in the seventh. Once the Yanks went ahead in the eighth, I knew it was over.

This one fell squarely on the bullpen's overmatched shoulders. No less than five different guys came in for the Red Sox and they all gave up runs before Junichi Tazawa (called up from the PawSox earlier this week) was able to get the last four outs.

Felix Doubront had his best MLB start, given the circumstances, so he deserved much better than what ended up happening. He held New York to one run (earned) over six innings with four hits, seven strikeouts and three walks.

Freddy Garcia was useless, he allowed five earned runs on seven hits in 1.2 innings, while the next New York relievers-Clay Rapada and David Phelps-also couldn't stop the bleeding. However, that's when Rafael Soriano (2-0), Boone Logan and Cody Eppley combined to shut out the Red Sox in the final three innings.

Mark Teixeira (6 RBIs, 3 hits, 3 runs) and Nick Swisher (6 RBIs, 3 hits, 2 runs) provided most of the damage for the Yankees. Derek Jeter (3 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, RBI), Eduardo Nunez (3 hits, 2 runs) and Russell Martin (2 runs, 2 hits, 2 RBIs) all had multiple hits as well.

You don't lose many non-beer league softball games where you have 17 hits but that's what the Red Sox accomplished today so there's that. David Ortiz (4 hits, run, RBI) is arguably the hottest hitter in MLB and it was nice to see Jarrod Saltalamacchia (4 hits, run) come out of his season-long slump too. Cody Ross (2 runs, 2 hits, 2 RBIs) and Mike Aviles (2 hits, 2 RBIs, run, stolen base) are off to fine starts in their Red Sox careers at the plate. Dustin Pedroia added two hits and an RBI.

Boston hasn't scored first often this season but they went wild to begin today with two in the first, three in the second, two in the third and two in the fifth.

Adrian Gonzalez and Ortiz had RBI doubles to start things off. Aviles and Pedroia had RBI singles sandwiched around a sacrifice fly by Ryan Sweeney in the second. Darnell McDonald had a sacrifice fly in the third and Aviles put up another RBI single. Ross closed the binge with a two-run blast to center, his third home run of the season, in the fifth. Not bad, right?

Teixeira began the epic rally with a solo homer in the sixth, his second of the season. Swisher greeted Vicente Padilla with a grand slam, his fourth homer of the season, in the seventh. Matt Albers came on and he gave up a three-run bomb to Teixeira in the same inning.

New York tacked on seven more runs in the eighth. Alfredo Aceves entered in the eighth for a six-out save but that didn't go quite as planned since he allowed five earned runs on four walks (two intentional) and two hits. Swisher, Teixeira and Martin each had two-run doubles. Jeter finished it off with an RBI single.

Not that it matters, since they would probably lose anyway but it looks like we are getting some serious rain tomorrow so I doubt the Sunday Night Baseball game (8 p.m., ESPN) will happen. That's a shame too since Terry Francona would be in the booth and God only knows what he could say about this disaster.

The Red Sox' best bet is to duck the Yankees, get out on the road against the Twins and White Sox-two mediocre teams-and try to put all this failure behind them before this season is over before it has even really begun.