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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Detroit Tigers Avoid Four-Game Sweep By The Red Sox Thanks To Josh Beckett's Dud

Josh Beckett and the Red Sox weren't able to complete a four-game sweep of the Tigers tonight at Fenway Park. Detroit (24-27, 13-15 away) beat Boston (26-25, 13-14 home) 7-3 in a pretty lifeless game witnessed first-hand by my girlfriend and I.

It marked the second time (White Sox, April 29) this season that Beckett lost when the Red Sox had a chance at a four-game sweep. Boston might be safely over .500 at last but the fact that their home record (where they usually excel) is still under .500 is a troubling sign of things to come.

Beckett (4-5) went seven innings but he wasn't fooling many hitters as they touched him up for four earned runs on 10 hits with one strikeout and one walk. While I'd like to pile all the blame on the Texas Toughguy, mostly because it's so fun, the truth was that relievers Franklin Morales (1 run) and Rich Hill (2 runs) were also off their games.

Max Scherzer (5-3) won his third straight start, an adequate outing that lasted six innings. He allowed three earned runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and two walks.

It should come as no surprise that a makeshift Red Sox lineup (hello Scott Podsednik leading off) without Dustin Pedroia (injured thumb) and Will Middlebrooks (not in the lineup, don't ask me why) struggled to produce much offense. In fact, the Tigers doubled up (14-7) the Red Sox in total hits.

Quintin Berry (3 hits, 2 runs, 2 stolen bases, RBI), Delmon Young (3 hits, 2 RBIs, run), Prince Fielder (2 hits, 2 RBIs, run) and Miguel Cabrera (2 hits, run, RBI) all had multiple hits for Detroit. Only Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2 hits, 2 RBIs), who should get serious All-Star consideration if he keeps this up (.373, 6 HRs, 14 RBIs in his last 16 games), had more than one hit for Boston.

Detroit nearly scored in the second inning but Young was thrown out at home on a nice throw by Ryan Sweeney in right field. Not sure why they sent him since Young isn't fast and he was the last out of the frame. Dumb move.

The Red Sox grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second thanks to Salty's (10th of the season) solo homer to right center and Podsednik's RBI double.

Beckett coughed it right up as the Tigers scored three times in the third to take a 3-2 lead. Berry had an RBI single, Brennan Boesch had a sacrifice fly and Fielder plated Berry with an RBI single.

Saltalamacchia tied it at three with an RBI single in the third but Cabrera's RBI single in the fifth put Detroit ahead for good. Young (4th of the season) crushed a meatball from Morales over the Monster in the eighth.

Against Hill in the ninth, Fielder had an RBI triple (no joke) and Young ended his memorable night with an RBI single.

I'm calling it right now, June will be the toughest month of the season for the Red Sox: seven of the nine series are against teams with winning records. Boston begins that arduous task with three games in Toronto this weekend. The Blue Jays (27-24, 1 game ahead of Red Sox, 4th in AL East) took two of three from the Red Sox back on April 9-11 at Rogers Centre.

Clay Buchholz (4-2) faces Henderson Alvarez (3-4) tomorrow night (7:07 p.m., NESN) in the opener. Felix Doubront (5-2) opposes Kyle Drabek (4-5) on Saturday afternoon (1:07 p.m., NESN) and in the finale on Sunday afternoon (1:07 p.m., NESN), Daniel Bard (5-5) is against rookie Drew Hutchison (4-2).

The Celtics Waste The Best Game Of Rajon Rondo's Career, Lose Game 2 In Overtime

In this era of instant analysis (thanks Twitter and 24/7 news cycle), overreactions and Sportscenter playing on a constant loop, it's easy to lose perspective on things at times. Make no mistake about it though, Rajon Rondo had one of the greatest performances tonight that we'll ever see in an NBA playoff game.

Rondo went for a career-high 44 points (16 of 24 shooting) with 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals but it still somehow wasn't enough as the Heat won Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals 115-111 in overtime this evening at AmericanAirlines Arena.

An optimist would say that Miami just held serve at home as they went up 2-0 in the series; a pessimist would tell you that Boston gave it their best shot but they came up empty in what amounted to a must-win in everything but the name.

It's hard to put into words how well Rondo played. Let's start with the fact that he played all 53 minutes and scored all 12 of their points in overtime. That is absurd. He was 2 for 2 on 3-pointers, 10 of 12 from the free throw line and he hit jumpers all night long. Oh and he only had three turnovers. Paul Pierce (21 points, 6 rebounds) fouled out for the second time in three games and unlike in Game 7 vs. Philly, Rondo wasn't able to carry his team by himself without the captain. Kevin Garnett had a very quiet 18 points and eight rebounds but on the flip side, Ray Allen put up 13 points in 43 minutes.

One of the most promising parts of this was Ray's tying 3-pointer (tying it at 99). He still didn't shoot great (5 for 11 from the floor) but he looked way more energized than he has recently. Brandon Bass had eight points and 10 rebounds but he got buried on the bench in the fourth and overtime as Celtics head coach Doc Rivers went with Mickael Pietrus (to cover LeBron James).

If I told you that James was 7 for 20 from the floor, you would probably do cartwheels (assuming you like Boston) but the problem was that he took 24 free throws. Yes my friends, he hit 18 of them for 34 points along with 10 rebounds and seven assists in one of the most fraudulent big-time stat lines in playoff history.

Dwyane Wade (23 points) was absent for most of the first half but he was the central figure in the three biggest plays of the game (for Miami). Mario Chalmers (22 points) was the unlikely hero that helped the Heat overcome a slow first half. Udonis Haslem (13 points, 11 rebounds) also made a couple huge key hoops which made up for LeBron pooping his pants like usual (missing two shots at the end of regulation and two free throws in overtime). Wade's crazy plays were 1) a block on Allen's layup, 2) a non-foul call on Rondo where he hit him over the face and 3) a big boy And-1 (missed the free throw) after he was fouled by KG in the lane.

The Celts actually were up by as many as 15 points (47-32) in the second quarter but the Heat chipped away thanks to a laughable foul advantage (33-18). Three Celtics fouled out while only one Heat player (Joel Anthony, 4) had more than three fouls. LeBron and Wade combined for four total fouls in 91:35 of combined action. As we learned in the Philadelphia series, double-digit leads for the C's are nothing, they can give them up in a quarter or two. The truth is that if Miami (31 of 37) hit their free throws, they wouldn't have needed overtime but I digress.

Boston deserved a better fate (yeah I said it, without even wearing my Celtics foam finger) after leading most of the way. They were ahead 24-18 after the first quarter and 53-46 at halftime. The Heat exploded (35-22) in the third but credit the C's for hanging in there and winning the fourth (24-18).

The combination of no depth and Pierce fouling out proved to be too much to overcome for Boston. The Celtics shot 49.4% from the field and 26 of 29 on free throws. The Heat got back into the game thanks to 3-pointers (10-5) and moving the basketball well (24-15 assists). Miami had eight more fastbreak points (18-10) and 10 more points in the paint (40-30). Miami's bench outscored Boston 25-7 and had 12 more rebounds (17-5).

So here we are, the series shifts back to Boston on Friday (8:30 p.m., ESPN) for Game 3 as the Celts face an absolute must-win at TD Garden. You know that David Stern and the NBA's worst fear is a sweep in the Conference Finals so with the Thunder down 0-2 and heading home not to mention the Celtics in the same predicament, I have a feeling that both teams will find a way to get it done in Game 3. Otherwise they'll both be eliminated very shortly. Pardon me while I take a cold shower to wipe that stink off then cry myself to sleep thanks to either of those depressing notions.

Winning four out of the next five games against Miami is daunting enough, Boston should only focus on Game 3 and how they can find a way to get back in this series before it's too late.

The Red Sox Are Finally Putting It All Together

I'm not sure what happened to the Detroit Tigers team that played the Red Sox in the opening series this season but Boston will happily continue to beat up on this current crappy version of the Tigers while they try to sort things out.

The Red Sox (26-24, 13-13 home) won their third straight against the Tigers (23-27, 12-15 away), 6-4 tonight at Fenway Park.

Jon Lester (5 quality starts in 11 outings) dug Boston a 3-0 hole but thanks to three home runs, Boston was able to rally and then close the door thanks to more fine work from one of the best bullpens in baseball.

This looked like a start from Lester's rookie year as he piled up pitches (120) but wasn't particularly effective. In 6.2 innings, he allowed four earned runs on 10 hits with seven strikeouts.

Detroit starter Drew Smyly was about as up and down as you'd expect from a rookie in his first outing at Fenway. In six innings of work, he allowed four earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts.

The Tigers didn't exactly pound the ball as Lester worked around plenty of baserunners. Detroit scored in the first on a groundout then got two in the third on a sacrifice fly and groundout.

David Ortiz (12th of the season) and Will Middlebrooks (6th of the season) both had two-run homers in the fourth to give Boston a temporary 4-3 lead.

Miguel Cabrera (4 hits, 3 doubles) tied it with an RBI single in the seventh but the Red Sox pushed ahead thanks to Adrian Gonzalez's (2 hits) ground-rule RBI double in the seventh then Kevin Youkilis' (4th of the season) solo shot over the Monster in the eighth.

Matt Albers (1-0) got the win despite only recording one out (Delmon Young's ground out) but it was a big one since Detroit had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh.

Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless eighth with two strikeouts for his sixth hold of the season then Alfredo Aceves proved yet again what a freak he is on the mound. Appearing in his fourth straight game (three save opportunities), he proceeded to get a 1-2-3 ninth (15 pitches/13 strikes) for his 13th save of the season.

I will be at Fenway tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) for what could be my only Red Sox game of the season, so it better be a good one! Haha, of course I'm stuck with Josh Beckett (4-4) against Max Scherzer (4-3). Pink hats and little kids be damned, you know I'll take every chance I can to voice my displeasure with the Texas Toughguy. Boston will be going for the rare four-game sweep.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I Called It Last Night: Red Sox Beat Justin Verlander To Finally Eclipse .500 In 2012

When the 2012 season is over for the Boston Red Sox and Bobby Valentine takes them all to Chuck E. Cheese's for one last going away party, tonight's game against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers will no doubt be a big topic of discussion.

It only took six tries (haha really) but Boston (25-24, 12-13 home) finally lurched over the .500 mark with a 6-3 win against Detroit (23-26, 12-14 away) at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox survived a 38-minute rain delay in the eighth inning to vanquish the undisputed best pitcher in baseball (the 2011 AL MVP). Verlander (5-3) lasted six innings, allowing five earned runs on 10 hits with seven strikeouts and a walk.

Daniel Bard (5-5) was much better than Verlander which isn't something you anticipate writing. In 5.1 innings, he allowed two earned runs on five hits with four strikeouts and two walks.

David Ortiz (3 hits, 2 runs, 2 RBIs) and Daniel Nava (3 RBIs) along with Scott Podsednik (2 for 4 with a double and run) supplied all the offense Boston would need and Alfredo Aceves shook off two bad outings in a row for his 12th save of the season.

Mike Aviles' fielder's choice in the second inning scored Ortiz and Nava cleared the bases with a three-run double on a 100 mph fastball from Verlander in the fourth.

Jhonny Peralta (4th of the season) homered for the second straight game but luckily this time it was only a solo shot to right center in the fifth. Ortiz had an RBI double off the Monster in the fifth as well.

Prince Fielder (8th of the season) absolutely destroyed a solo homer to right (437 feet) in the sixth then cut it to 5-3 (the closest the Tigers would get) with an RBI single in the seventh.

Ortiz hit his 11th homer of the season, a solo home run that just made it over the Monster in the eighth inning.

Vicente Padilla recorded four outs ahead of Aceves for his 12th hold of the season.

The Red Sox will try to make it three in a row against the Tigers tomorrow night (7:10 p.m.) as rookie Drew Smyly (2-1) takes on Jon Lester (3-4). After an awful outing in his last start against Tampa Bay, Lester is due for a quality start against a lineup that is not very good save for Prince and Miguel Cabrera. Boston might as well shoot for .500 at Fenway too while they're riding high.

Dustin Pedroia hasn't been placed on the DL yet because he's going to try play with a brace on his injured thumb. Fingers crossed (no pun intended) that it works since he could miss 3-4 weeks if it doesn't alleviate some of the pain.

So It Turns Out That Anthony Gonzalez Was Even More Washed Up Than We Thought

In a few months, we probably won't even remember that wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez was ever technically a part of the New England Patriots in 2012.

Today, the news broke that the Pats had released him well before training camp and preseason had even started.

It's easy to sit here and make fun of the guy for being injury prone but this is just sad. I'm not sure how bad he has to be to get dumped this quickly but it might be time for him to think about retiring and moving on with the next phase of his life. Playing pro football doesn't seem to be his thing anymore.

I never thought he'd have much of an impact on the team nor necessarily find himself on the 53-man roster in September but this is pretty pathetic. With slot receivers Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and rookie Jeremy Ebert all signed for next season, apparently there was no room for Gonzalez's lifeless body.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Celtics Systematically Fall Apart In 2nd Half, Heat Roll In Game 1 Of Eastern Conference Finals

For a league that's more predictable than professional wrestling, the NBA would be hard pressed to find a less surprising result that what occurred tonight in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

After playing to a stalemate by halftime (46-46), the Heat ran away with it in the second half as they outscored the Celtics 47-33 over the final two quarters to take a 93-79 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena. Boston fell to 2-5 on the road this postseason.

As always with Miami, it was the LeBron James (32 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Dwyane Wade (22 points, 7 assists) variety show. Poor Chris Bosh was left looking stoned on the Heat bench with his Nantucket worthy peach colored pants. The other sign that Boston had no lift is that complete stiffs like Shane Battier (10 points, 10 rebounds), Mario Chalmers (9 points) and Mike Miller (8 points) had solid games.

The C's closed out the Sixers-if you could call it that-on Saturday night, they flew to Miami yesterday and played the rested Heat who had two extra days off and the home-court advantage (they're only 35-6 there this season). LeBron outscored the Celtics by himself (13-11) as Miami took a 21-11 lead after a fugly first quarter. Boston played an excellent second quarter (35-25) and earned the tie at halftime. Sadly, the last two quarters went much like the first as the Heat started to run away in the third (26-15) and finished it in the fourth (21-18). All told, Miami outscored Boston 68-44 not counting the second quarter.

As you would expect with an older team, the Celtics' legs and energy deserted them in the second half. For the game, they missed 10 free throws (11 of 21), gave up 15 more rebounds (48-33) and 10 more blocks (11-1), so yeah I'd say that they were dead once they had to sit down at halftime (damn those extended breaks!).

Kevin Garnett (23 points, 10 rebounds) played very well with no Bosh on him but Paul Pierce (12 points) was invisible while Brandon Bass (8 points) and Ray Allen (6 points) were even worse than that. Rajon Rondo (16 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) finished with decent numbers but he was 8 for 20 from the floor.

I think most rational people would say that Game 2 on Wednesday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN) will tell us much more about this series and these particular teams. If the Heat roll again, they might very well be on their way to a sweep. However, if the Celtics win or even just make it tight to the finish, we'll know that they have a pulse.

I'd like to pat myself on the back for not mentioning until now that Boston was called for not one, not two, not three but four (!) bogus technical fouls in this game alone. It didn't end up having any bearing on the result but good lord, can NBA refs just stay out of the way for one playoff series? I know that's all we want. The Celtics will have enough trouble stopping the Heat on their own, they don't need to be worrying about that shady aspect of the games as well.

Red Sox Celebrate Memorial Day With A Win Vs. Tigers At Fenway

All you have to know about the Red Sox is that Felix Doubront has been their undisputed best starting pitcher thus far in the 2012 season.

Boston (24-24, 11-13 home) got back to .500 for the fifth time this season thanks to his solid outing in a 7-4 win over Detroit (23-25, 12-13 away) in the series opener this afternoon at Fenway Park on a picture perfect Memorial Day.

Two things overshadowed the final result: Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected in the third inning for arguing a completely bogus call (Mike Aviles struck out but the umpire said the ball hit the ground first so he got another chance and delivered along with two other two-out runs) and Dustin Pedroia hurt his thumb in the sixth and left. Bobby V wasn't very clear on Pedroia's injury after the game but it sounds like he's at least expected to miss tomorrow's game.

Doubront (5-2) was backed by a Red Sox lineup that banged out 13 hits. In six innings of work, he allowed two earned runs on four hits with six strikeouts and a walk. His only blemishes were a pair of solo homers to random bums.

Doug Fister (0-3) is a good pitcher but he's off to a rough start this season for the Tigers. Today probably didn't help his confidence either since in five innings, Boston tagged him for six earned runs on 11 hits with two strikeouts and a walk.

The Red Sox scored in the first inning as David Ortiz (2 hits) had an RBI double. Delmon Young (3rd of the season) responded with a solo homer over the Monster in the second but Boston tacked on three in the home half of the second on Aviles' (2 hits, 2 RBIs, run) RBI single, Daniel Nava's RBI double and Pedroia's RBI single.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (9th of the season) hit his second homer of the long weekend, an opposite field shot over the Monster in the third which opened up a 5-1 Red Sox lead.

Gerald Laird (2nd of the season) had a solo homer in the fifth to cut it to 5-2 but Will Middlebrooks had an RBI single in the sixth and Aviles added an RBI double in the eighth.

Jhonny Peralta (3rd of the season) crushed a garbage-time two-run bomb over the Monster in the ninth against Alfredo Aceves. No idea why Valentine put Aceves out there in a non-save situation a day after he blew a save.

I also have to mention Scott Atchison's routinely excellent relief. He had two scoreless innings with four strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 0.93. Ryan Sweeney was 3 for 4 with a double and two runs in his first game back from a concussion.

It will be Boston's sixth chance to get over .500 tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) and if you believe in reverse locks, this is your moment. Justin Verlander (5-2) faces Daniel Bard (4-5). Verlander is the top starting pitcher in baseball (just ask his MVP award from last season) and Bard has been a mess lately. So clearly Bard will pitch well and the Red Sox will knock around Verlander.

Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview: Boston Vs. Miami

When Bulls guard Derrick Rose went down in the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs with a torn ACL, the path to the Eastern Conference Finals became much easier for the Boston Celtics. Rather than having to get through both Chicago and the Miami Heat, now the Celts only had to find a way to beat Miami.

Well here we are, on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals as Boston opens up with Game 1 at Miami's American Airlines Arena tomorrow night (8:30 p.m., ESPN). The Celtics haven't made it easy on themselves by any means (which isn't a new trend), slogging through a six-game series against Atlanta in the first round and surviving seven games with Philadelphia in the semifinals.

The Celtics are old, they're banged up and they have to be completely drained. These aren't excuses, they are widely recognized facts. Still, the reason that Boston fans have a sliver of hope in this upcoming series is two-fold: 1) LeBron James might be the best basketball player in the world but he simply can't consistently close in big games against quality opponents. Rather, he turns into a puddle. 2) Kevin Garnett is playing very well and Chris Bosh's status is completely up in the air for the series. I'll also throw in that if he wants to, Rajon Rondo could dominate this series and be the top player that decides the eventual outcome.

I can't really tell you anything about the Heat that you don't already know. They have absolutely no depth and I've never seen an NBA team rely more on three guys (two if Bosh is out) and that's not a good thing. Dwyane Wade was hurt early in the Indiana series but rallied to play out of his mind as they eliminated the Pacers in six games.

Not having Avery Bradley to check Wade could prove to be fatal for the Celtics. All we can hope is that Ray Allen's fourth quarter resurgence last night in Game 7 against the Sixers gives him a little boost of confidence and energy to overcome what has been a terrible postseason for the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history.

Paul Pierce usually does a serviceable job covering LeBron so I'm not too worried about that matchup. LeBron will get his numbers either way. The good news for Boston is that they have more X-factors in the series, meaning guys that could have great games (Brandon Bass style in Game 5 against Philly) out of nowhere.

It's hard to say who needs to have a better series for the C's to win: Rondo or KG. Let's settle for both of them playing about as well as they possibly can. It is going to take a nearly superhuman effort to put away the Heat and Boston will have to steal a game or two (yeah right) in Miami where the Heat are nearly unbeatable.

As I said in the immediate aftermath of winning Game 7 vs. the Sixers, all the pressure will be on Miami. To borrow Bill Simmons' tired cliche, the Celtics are playing with house money at this point. There are only two ways that teams in this situation usually turn out: they quickly fold or they keep the magic going longer than most expected. Needless to say, we're all hoping for the latter. If not for our pleasure, the world doesn't deserve to see the Heat in the NBA Finals for the second straight season.

Game 1-Monday, 8:30 p.m. in Miami
Game 2-Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. in Miami
Game 3-Friday, 8:30 p.m. in Boston
Game 4-Sunday, 8:30 p.m. in Boston

Alfredo Aceves Blows The Save, Red Sox Choke Away Series To Rays At Fenway

I'll keep this short and not so sweet since I didn't see one pitch live (I was at Gillette enjoying the NCAA men's lacrosse Division 2 and 3 finals) but I still checked my phone like a madman to see that the Rays beat the Red Sox 4-3 this afternoon at Fenway Park to take the series 2-1.

Boston (23-24, 10-3 home) looked poised to finally get over the .500 hump but for the fifth time this stupid season, they couldn't get it done as they fell to Tampa Bay (29-19, 12-12 away), a much better team. If you think about it, this would have been a Rays sweep if not for Salty's walk-off homer last night.

Staked to a 3-2 lead to start the ninth, Alfredo Aceves (0-2) blew the save after converting his last nine in a row. Mighty (.241 average) Sean Rodriguez (5th of the season) took him deep with a three-run no doubter over the Monster.

That wasted two very rare things for Boston: 1) a quality start for Clay Buchholz (7 innings, 2 earned runs, 8 hits, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk) and 2) a clutch three-run homer (4th of the season, 1st opposite field!) by Adrian Gonzalez in the seventh when the Red Sox trailed 2-0. Of course, this being A-Gon, he had a chance to add an insurance run in the eighth but couldn't do it. Lefty Jake McGee (2-1) was summoned with the bases loaded and he got Gonzalez to ground out. I guess two clutch hits in the same contest is way too much to ask from him.

Jeremy Hellickson pitched well for Tampa Bay though not as stellar as Buchholz (best start of 2012, not that it was a long list). He went 7.2 innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks.

The Rays scratched out a pair of runs on Ben Zobrist's ground out in the fourth and Will Rhymes' (3 hits) RBI single that scored Rodriguez in the seventh.

The Detroit Tigers (23-24) come to Fenway for a four-game series starting tomorrow afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN) on Memorial Day. Two bad teams, America, woo! The Tigers looked like world beaters in the opening series of the 2012 season when they swept the Red Sox in Motown but as you can tell by their third-place standing in the crappy AL Central, they have been a disappointment since then.

Felix Doubront (4-2) faces Doug Fister (0-2) tomorrow, Daniel Bard (4-5) gets MLB's best pitcher-Justin Verlander (5-2) on Tuesday night (7:10 p.m., NESN), Jon Lester (3-4) takes on rookie Drew Smyly (2-1) on Wednesday night (7:10 p.m., NESN) while Josh Beckett (4-4) and Max Scherzer (4-3) wrap it up on Thursday night (7:10 p.m., NESN).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Celtics Gut Out 85-75 Game 7 Win Vs. Sixers, Bring On Miami

In a series that was extremely ugly from start to finish, the Boston Celtics did just enough to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 85-75 tonight in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Garden.

Boston is now 21-7 all-time in Game 7s (4-2 in the Big 4 era) and that victory sets up the juicy matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals that we all wanted: Celtics vs. Miami Heat. Now everyone else in the world will be jumping on the Celtics' bandwagon since the Heat are the most hated team in professional sports.

Rajon Rondo (18 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds) had his 22nd career triple-double (9th in the playoffs) and take a guess what Boston's record is in those 22 games: 21-1. So yeah, Rondo is somewhat important to their basketball team. It was far from a one-man show since for the first time all postseason every starter scored in double figures. Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Brandon Bass scored 16, Paul Pierce filled the stat sheet with 15 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two steals and Ray Allen (11 points) came back from the dead to hit a pair of dagger 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers fought the Celtics tooth and nail and they have nothing to be ashamed of since they go home for the summer with the second-most wins (7) ever for a No. 8 seed in the NBA playoffs, trailing only the 1999 Knicks that made the NBA Finals. Doug Collins' team plays great defense and is unselfish but they are a consistent scorer away from being a true obstacle in the Eastern Conference in the near future.

Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 18 points, Elton Brand had 15 points and Jrue Holiday put up 15 points, nine assists and five steals. Thaddeus Young pulled down 10 rebounds off the Philly bench which outscored Boston's 17-7.

Rondo essentially saved the Big 4 era by taking over after Pierce fouled out with 4:16 left in regulation and Boston holding a slim 71-68 lead. Rondo scored the next nine points by himself which went layup, long 2-pointer (that was initially called a 3 but he had his foot on the line), rhythm 3-pointer and two free throws. To close out the game he went 4 for 4 from the free throw line and 3 for 3 from the floor. That is Rondo in a nutshell, just when you think you've figured him out (which is impossible), he does something absurd like that. He's the most frustrating yet unstoppable force in the NBA and that I can ever remember on the four Boston teams in my lifetime.

It was tied 20-20 after the first quarter and Boston led 41-33 at halftime. KG's jumper at the buzzer saved the C's from an awful third quarter (outscored 19-14) and gave them a 3-point lead (55-52) heading into the fourth quarter.

In a seven-game series where the Sixers never scored over 92 points, the Celtics saved their best defensive effort for last as they held Philly to a horrid 35.0% shooting from the field while Boston shot 42.5%. The other vital numbers were the Celtics free throw shooting (20 of 22) vs. the Sixers (14 of 20), blocks (6-1) and fastbreak points (14-5). That shows an older team buckling down and seizing the moment with what got them here.

Most will give the Celtics no shot against the Heat and that's the way I want it and they like it. Let Miami have all the pressure, we know how LeBron responds in those type of situations. Obviously with no break and heading to Miami for Game 1 on Monday night (8:30 p.m., ABC), the Heat will be rested and ready to go. All the C's have to do is win a road game (more likely Game 2) and flip the series. It sounds like Chris Bosh will miss the series so that's some good news for Boston.

This is the third time in five seasons (during the Big Four era) that they've made the Eastern Conference Finals. It's also the fourth time in the past five years that they've faced LeBron in the postseason. The Celtics are not scared of the Heat and they went 3-1 against them during the regular season, this is going to be a tougher series than most think.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Salty's 1st Career Walk-Off HR Gives Boston A Thrilling 3-2 Win Vs. Tampa Bay

I guess all we can surmise from tonight's final result is that the Boston Red Sox flourish the most when the pressure is not on them, namely in terms of viewing audiences.

Like most, I wasn't watching it live; I actually first noticed it on my stattracker for Yahoo fantasy baseball (on my laptop) and then Twitter but it counts just the same as the Red Sox (23-23, 10-12 home) beat the Rays (28-19, 11-12 away) 3-2 on a walk-off (1st of his career) two-run homer by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

It was the 10th comeback win for the Red Sox this season, a good sign that they might not be as average as their record suggests.

The pinch-hit bomb to right center (his 8th of the season) put Boston back at .500 (for the fourth time this season) while also causing the first blown save of the season for Rays closer Fernando Rodney (2-1), who had 15 saves in a row to start 2012.

It was a pitcher's duel as Josh Beckett and David Price both performed very well even though neither factored into the final decision. Price went seven innings, allowing one earned run on eight hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Beckett also went seven innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts and no walks. He had 15 swinging strikes which has to be a season high.

As always, the only thing you can count on this season for Boston is their bullpen and tonight was no exception. Andrew Miller threw a clean eighth with a strikeout then Rich Hill (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth and ended up getting the win.

The Red Sox broke the deadlock in the sixth on Will Middlebrooks's (2 hits) RBI single. The Rays scored both of their runs in the seventh on Ben Zobrist's sacrifice fly and an RBI single by Luke Scott.

Boston gets its fourth chance (5th if you count Opening Day) to go over .500 tomorrow afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN) as Clay Buchholz (4-2) takes on Jeremy Hellickson (4-1). It would be a shock if Buchholz is the one to get them there since he's been a complete mess basically all season despite somehow notching four fraudulent wins.

Another Bourque Joins The Bruins, Hamill Is Officially A Bust

Ray Bourque will always be one of the greatest players in Boston Bruins history, that is undisputed.

Today the Black and Gold tried to recapture some of that past magic as they traded for one of Ray's sons. The Bruins dealt center Zach Hamill to the Washington Capitals for Chris Bourque, a forward with the Hershey Bears (their AHL team). His brother Ryan Bourque is a forward for the Connecticut Whale (the Rangers AHL team).

The ironic thing is that while Chris will get most of the headlines based on his last name and who is father happens to be, this move is much more notable since it signaled that Boston is fully wiping their hands clean of Hamill.

Last season, Bourque was a much better player than Hamill as he put up 93 points (27 goals, 66 assists) in 73 games for the Bears. In 33 career games in the NHL with Washington and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bourque had one goal and three assists. He's due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

After growing up in Danvers, MA, Bourque prepped at Cushing Academy and played one season at Boston University before turning pro (in 2004, he was the Caps' 2nd round pick at No. 33 overall).

Hamill was Boston's 1st round pick (No. 8 overall) in 2007. He only had eight goals and 13 assists this last season with the Providence Bruins in 41 games. He got a chance with the big club in 2011-12 due to injuries but he didn't take advantage of it as he only managed two assists in 16 games. In total, Hamill finished with 139 points in 256 career games with Providence.

More than anything, this move serves as a fresh start for both players. They are both undersized guys so their games are based on superior skills and quick hands. At 26, Bourque had clearly done all he could in Hershey yet he still could not find a spot in Washington; Hamill's career has completely gone off the rails in Providence but he's only 23 so maybe going to a new organization will revitalize his once promising form.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Rays (Minus Luke Scott & B.J. Upton) Are Way Too Easy To Root For

Yes friends, Memorial Day weekend (the unofficial start of summer) is here but the Boston Red Sox still haven't gotten over the .500 mark in the 2012 season.

They've had three chances (four if you count Opening Day) to get over that but they haven't done such a simple task that most mediocre baseball teams can do in their sleep. It's very possible that it might be June before it happens (if ever). Let that fully sink in and wash over you.

Tonight at Fenway Park, Tampa Bay (28-18, 11-11 away) opened up a 7-1 lead in the fourth inning before settling for a 7-4 victory in the series opener against Boston (22-23, 9-12 home).

Jon Lester's (3-4) outing was bad enough but this couldn't mercifully end without that wonderfully pointless exercise that's unique to baseball: intentionally hitting a guy with a pitch than both dugouts and bullpens emptying but absolutely nothing of consequence happening. The particulars of this event were Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales drilling Rays redneck racist Luke Scott on the hip in the ninth. It was all payback for drama earlier in the game (Burke Badenhop hitting Dustin Pedroia in the 6th). Things like that give me an ice cream headache. Nobody can be as sensitive as baseball players and the mock outrage when utterly predictable stuff like that occurs is equally pathetic. Who cares, as long as it's not hitting guys in the head.

Moving on, Lester was rocked. He lasted but four innings, allowing seven earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts and three walks. He served up three homers in less than two innings, always a winning formula.

Rays rookie Alex Cobb (2-0) got the win and it's good to see Tampa Bay finally developing some young pitchers. They haven't had enough of those in recent years that have found any success. Cobb went five innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits with two strikeouts and four walks.

This shouldn't even have been competitive but as they've done all season, the Red Sox bullpen stubbornly kept them in it. Scott Atchison threw three scoreless innings while Matt Albers and Morales followed him with scoreless frames of their own. Combined they allowed only two hits with four strikeouts and two walks in five innings of work. Maybe Bobby V should think about reversing roles and having them start the game since Boston's starters clearly couldn't be less consistent.

Kevin Youkilis gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI single. Matt Joyce (9th of the season) put the Rays in front for good with a grand slam in the third inning. Elliott Johnson (3rd of the season) and new Tampa Bay leadoff hitter Carlos Pena (7th of the season) hit back-to-back homers in the fourth with Johnson's coming with Chris Gimenez on base too.

Boston mounted its ill-fated rally in the fifth as Adrian Gonzalez hit an RBI double off the Monster to cut it to 7-2. Marlon Byrd had an RBI single in the sixth and Mike Aviles hit a sacrifice fly but Jake McGee was able to get David Ortiz to fly out to right (with two runners on) to end the frame.

Tampa Bay's bullpen was even more impressive (considering they had a lead) as McGee got four outs, Joel Peralta earned the hold with two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 eighth and Fernando Rodney had a 1-2-3 ninth with a strikeout for his 15th save of the season. I bet you didn't know that Rodney's ERA is 0.38. Really.

I don't know what kind of deal with the devil Joe Maddon made but it's insane when you sit back and realize what he's getting out of things like Pena leading off, Red Sox castoff Drew Sutton (2 for 3 with a walk) and Rodney as a lights out closer. If everything seemingly works for the Rays (in the regular season at least before their lack of offense kills them in the postseason), nothing is ever right for the Red Sox, who take one step forward and two steps back every week.

With Celtics-Sixers Game 7 on tap tomorrow night (8 p.m., ABC) and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat on the line, I'm pretty sure about five people will watch all of the Red Sox-Rays game tomorrow (7:15 p.m., Fox). Four of them will be old folks that fall asleep in the third inning with the TV on. That's probably best since Josh Beckett (4-4) faces David Price (6-3).

I can already smell a Rays sweep this weekend while everyone is more tuned into parties, barbecues and the beach.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Celtics Poop Their Basketball Shorts, Sixers Win Game 6 82-75 Going Away

Pathetic, embarrassing, putrid, depressing, these are just a few choice words to describe the Celtics' performance in tonight's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center against the Sixers.

Philadelphia won 82-75 in one of the ugliest basketball games I've ever seen and this is coming from someone that used to cover Division 4 (the smallest) high school girls basketball in Massachusetts for a living. The Sixers forced a winner-take-all Game 7 on Saturday (time TBA) at TD Garden against the banged up Celtics, who are suddenly reeling and looking quite vulnerable.

The C's fell to a dismal 2-11 in close out games on the road in the Big 3 era, they are also 2-4 on the road this postseason. Looking for some positive numbers? Boston is 17-4 all-time in Game 7's at home and 20-7 overall in Game 7's. Neither team has won consecutive games so far in this series.

Avery Bradley missed Game 6 and he's reportedly done for the playoffs with his dislocated shoulder. This meant that Ray Allen had to play a big role but he was held to nine points in 26 minutes since he was saddled with four fouls. It's probably a combination of his ankle woes and age but Allen looks over the hill in this series.

It's not like the Sixers played great, they missed 11 free throws and gave up 11 more rebounds (48-37) including seven more offensive boards (14-7) but their youthful athleticism and variety of scoring options is what helped them succeed. Eight more assists (22-14) and Boston's 17 turnovers leading to 19 points helped their cause as well. Finally, who could forget Philly's 42-16 edge in points in the paint?

Philly had five players in double figures led by Jrue Holiday (20 points, 6 assists), who is not scared of the moment. Elton Brand put up 13 points and 10 rebounds while Evan Turner (9 rebounds) and Andre Iguodala (6 rebounds) each scored 12 points. Lou Williams notched 11 points and six assists off the bench and Spencer Hawes tossed in nine points.

The Celtics shot a horrid 33.3% for the game and had a season-low 14 assists. Paul Pierce (24 points, 10 rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (20 points, 11 rebounds) might as well have been the only Boston players that showed up. Rajon Rondo (9 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) was held to his lowest assist total in 36 games. Brandon Bass (2 for 12) came back down to Earth with a thud after a career-high 27 points in Game 5, he was limited to just eight points.

The most frustrating part (besides Rondo) was KG's unwillingness to attack the paint/basket. All 20 of his shots were from outside the paint, showing that his bully reputation might be warranted. Moreover, this loss is further evidence that the Celtics are front-runners, particularly if they take care of business on Saturday like we think they will.

With the way this one unfolded, it's hard to believe that one of these teams will be in the Eastern Conference Finals and only eight wins away from an NBA title. This game was more suited for November or better yet, the preseason.

Philly led 22-19 after the first quarter but Boston went ahead with a 17-11 second quarter, haha really. Mickael Pietrus made a 3-pointer right before the halftime buzzer for a 36-33 Celtics advantage. As Sixers head coach Doug Collins has stressed, the third quarter has been the key frame in this series. The team that has controlled that has generally won the games. No surprise then that Philadelphia surged in front with a 27-20 third. KG made some shots in the fourth but he couldn't save Boston by himself as the Sixers put it out of reach 22-19.

The best thing for all of us is two days off between Game 6 and 7. This series has been nothing close to well played despite the fact that they have alternated wins from Games 1-6. Eastern Conference basketball is worlds away from what we expect during the Western Conference Finals (Spurs vs. Thunder) in terms of level of play, style and offense.

This being the NBA, you know that the Celtics will get more foul shots (the Sixers had 5 more tonight) in Game 7 which is good news for them. The question is if they can squeeze anything out of Allen, Rondo and anybody else not named Kevin or Paul. The C's looked like a poor imitation of the Heat in Game 6 with two players basically doing everything. Holiday is better than I expected but there's no way that Rondo should lose that battle, especially to that degree.

To tide us over, we will be forced to watch Heat-Pacers Game 6 tomorrow night and hope that Indiana can stave off elimination. The Big 3 is 3-2 all-time in Game 7's although they lost the last two (Game 7 vs. Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals and Game 7 vs. Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals). I'm not saying it can't happen (that would be silly) but I hate to think that the Big 3 go out like this, on the Garden parquet against a No. 8 seed with a chance to go the Eastern Conference Finals against a team they can beat (regardless of who wins that series).

UPDATE 5/25: Bradley had surgery on his shoulder today so he's done for the playoffs. That is a big loss for the C's since he's been their best on ball defender by far and he started 10 games before his shoulder was repeatedly dislocated. Get well soon Avery! He has a bright future for the Green.

Patriots Sign 1st Round Pick Chandler Jones To 4-Year Deal With 5th-Year Team Option

Today, Chandler Jones-the Patriots' 2012 first-round pick (21st overall)-agreed to a four-year deal with a fifth-year team option. Terms were not disclosed.

The defensive end from Syracuse figures to have a big role on the Super Bowl contender right off the bat, particularly if they don't re-sign Andre Carter (which most believe they will). Jones is the fifth Patriot from the 2012 Draft class to sign, leaving only linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive end Jake Bequette as the remaining rookies that haven't gotten that out of the way.

I think I speak for all Patriots fans when I say that I can't wait to see what New England head coach Bill Belichick chooses to do with Jones. It's been a long time since he had a talented youngster on the defensive line, particularly one that's an end (Richard Seymour?). For years, that has basically been a black hole for the Patriots and they've pretended that sacks and quarterback pressures are irrelevant which couldn't be further from the truth. Especially when you have such a bad secondary.

The fact that Belichick traded up to get Jones can only mean one thing: the guy can play.

UPDATE 5/25: Today the Patriots agreed to a contract with free agent guard/center Jamey Richard. The 27-year-old Richard played 48 games (11 starts) with the Colts since being drafted in the 7th round (2008). In other words, he's just a big body to use during OTAs, minicamps and training camp before the real players all return to the field.

Red Sox Clinch Series With Orioles Thanks To Some Unlikely Power

The beauty of baseball and what keeps us tuning in despite a regular season that's way too long (162 games) and tedious is the chance to see something crazy that you'll surely never witness again.

This afternoon was one of those type of contests as the Red Sox (22-22, 13-11 away) beat the Orioles (28-17, 13-11 home) 6-5 at Camden Yards.

The win clinched the series for Boston (2-1) while also keeping them hot (10-3 in their last 13 games). Best of all, they completed their absurd 20 games in 20 days stretch (11-9) and eight-game road trip (5-3) in good shape. This is the third time that the Red Sox have reached .500 this season, hopefully now they'll take the next step and get over it-something they haven't done yet.

I'm very confident that Daniel Nava (2 hits), Kelly Shoppach (2 hits) and Scott Podsednik (2 hits, 2 runs) will never all hit home runs in the same game again but that's exactly what they did today. Boston needed all those longballs since Daniel Bard (4-5) didn't give them anything more than an average start. In 5.1 innings, Bard allowed two earned runs on five hits with two strikeouts and four walks. As always, I ask: why isn't he in the bullpen? He's not nearly the same guy when he starts, he's lost his velocity and he can't put any batters away.

Jake Arrieta (2-5) wasn't good either for the O's. He went 5.2 innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits with two strikeouts and three walks.

The Red Sox had 13 hits, including two from Kevin Youkilis (run, walk) and Will Middlebrooks (RBI). The Orioles were limited to seven, basically by three players Xavier Avery (2 hits, run), Adam Jones (2 hits) and Nick Johnson (3 RBIs, 2 hits, 2 runs), who hit not one but two home runs. I said it was a strange day, right?

Alfredo Aceves had his third straight perfect outing as he got four outs for his 11th save of the season.

Baltimore went up 1-0 in the first on Chris Davis's sacrifice fly. Boston tied it on Podsednik's double play ball in the second. Johnson (3rd of the season) hit a solo shot in the second. Middlebrooks tied it with an RBI double in the third although Youk was easily gunned down at the plate to end the inning on the same play.

Nava (2nd of the season) and Shoppach (2nd of the season) both went deep in the sixth, Shoppach's was a two-run blast. Johnson answered with his second home run, in the sixth, but Podsednik made it 6-4 with a solo homer in the eighth-his first since Sept. 2010 with the Dodgers.

The Orioles threatened in the eighth and pulled a run back on Wilson Betemit's sacrifice fly (that would have been more if not for a great diving catch by Che-Hsuan Lin in right field) but Aceves struck out Johnson to end the frame.

After a much needed day off tomorrow, the Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays for three games this weekend then the Detroit Tigers for four games at Fenway Park. Tampa Bay (27-18, 2nd place AL East) has already played Boston six times with the Red Sox going 4-2 so far.

Jon Lester (3-3) faces rookie Alex Cobb (1-0) on Friday night (7:10 p.m., NESN), Josh Beckett (4-4) gets David Price (6-3) on Saturday night (7:15 p.m., FOX) and Clay Buchholz (4-2) opposes Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) on Sunday afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN).

It's Memorial Day weekend in a few days so it's about time that the Red Sox get over the hump and don't look back to their pitiful start to 2012.

Kevin Garnett & Rajon Rondo Named To NBA All-Defensive Second Team

Stats are for losers and regular season awards are for chumps (just ask LeBron) but with that said, it's nice to see Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo get recognized by the NBA for their defensive prowess that they exhibited all season long.

The Celtics heart (KG) and soul (Rondo) were both named to the NBA All-Defensive second team today. Rondo had nine first-place votes and 11 second-place votes for a total of 36 points. Garnett followed with eight first-place votes and 10 second-place votes for 26 points.

The first team was former Celtics guard Tony Allen (now on Memphis), Magic center Dwight Howard, Clippers guard Chris Paul, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka and Heat forward LeBron James.

Others on the second team included Bulls forward Luol Dang, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Knicks center Tyson Chandler (who was the Defensive Player of the Year, haha figure that out).

For these squads, the voting panel consisted of the NBA’s 30 head coaches, who were asked to select NBA All-Defensive first and second teams by position. Coaches were not allowed to vote for players from their own team. Two points were awarded for a first-team vote and one point was awarded for a second-team vote.

Celtics second-year guard Avery Bradley finished with three points, including a first-team vote.

This is timely since to beat the Sixers tonight in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and win the series 4-2, the Celtics will need to call on their outstanding defense to get the job done. They are primarily a jump-shooting team so that comes and goes at times, but playing good defense is something that they can have more control over. I would argue that has been the key to the series for the Celts and I don't expect anything about that to change if they keep winning, reach the Eastern Conference Finals and perhaps beyond.

UPDATE 5/24: Today Rondo was named to the All-NBA third team. Garnett and Paul Pierce also received votes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Red Sox Might Never Go Over .500 This Entire Season

Remember the good old days when the Baltimore Orioles were a complete joke? The Boston Red Sox could always count on two things: 1) Camden Yards was Fenway South and 2) they beat up on the O's every year like it was going out of style.

I keep waiting for Baltimore (28-16, 13-10 home) to come back to Earth in 2012 but they continue to play very well as they beat Boston (21-22, 12-11 away) 4-1 tonight at Camden Yards. The crowd might not be showing up yet (don't ask me why) but the Orioles are looking like a legit contender in the AL East this season.

With the win, Baltimore improved to 4-1 against Boston this season while also kicking the Red Sox back under .500 (this is the latest it's taken them to get over that mark since 1996). They have already had two chances to reach that mediocre level but Boston cannot even do that right so far in this forgettable campaign. To make matters worse, the Yankees won tonight so the Red Sox are back in sole possession of fifth-place in the AL East.

After a nightmare 2011, young Orioles lefty Brian Matusz (4-4) appears to have found his game once again. He went 6.2 innings, allowing one earned run on two hits with a career high nine strikeouts and one walk. He turned it over to the lights out Baltimore bullpen which completed the task in style.

Darren O'Day struck out the two batters he faced in the seventh, Pedro Strop struck out one in a scoreless eighth for the hold and Jim Johnson got a 1-2-3 ninth for his MLB-leading 16th save of the season (on 8 pitches!).

Felix Doubront (4-2) pitched very well but it wasn't enough since he received barely any run support. In six innings, he allowed two earned runs on four hits with a career high nine strikeouts and two walks. His only mistake was a two-run homer to Scott Tolleson (1st of the season) in the second inning.

Boston managed only two hits, one was a solo homer by Kevin Youkilis (remember him?) in the fourth inning, his third of the season. Wilson Betemit put it away with a two-run shot off former Oriole Matt Albers in the eighth.

The Red Sox will try to win the series tomorrow afternoon (12:35 p.m., NESN) as Daniel Bard (3-5) faces Jake Arrieta (2-4). It's the culmination of a 20 games in 20 days stretch and an eight-game road trip. Before Boston hops on the plane, it would help them greatly if they show up for tomorrow's game. I'm sure they're dead tired and sick of being on the road but another win in Baltimore would be fantastic.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Red Sox Reach The .500 Mark For First Time Since April 30

As usual, with Clay Buchholz on the mound this season, it was all hands on deck for the Red Sox bullpen (1.59 ERA since April 23). They were the key to the game as Boston (21-21, 12-10 away) won its series opener at Balitmore's (27-16, 12-10 home) 8-6 this evening at Camden Yards.

The win was the ninth in the last 11 games for Boston and they reached the .500 mark for the first time since April 30. More importantly, their good stretch of play has allowed them to climb out of the AL East basement since now they're tied with the Yankees in fourth-place. Finally, this was also good for their psyche since the Orioles swept them at Fenway two weeks ago.

Buchholz ran into serious trouble in the third as he allowed four runs then and another in the fourth. He lasted 5.1 innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits with two strikeouts and four walks. On his 27th birthday, Andrew Miller (1-0) picked up the win after he was the first reliever for Boston. He recorded five outs with no hits and two strikeouts. I am shocked, he's been a totally different guy this season since he was called up.

Rich Hill allowed a run but Vicente Padilla bailed him out by getting the last two outs of the eighth. Alfredo Aceves locked up his 10th save with a 1-2-3 ninth. He's really settled into his new role as the closer after a terrible start.

To his good fortune, Buchholz was matched up with Tommy Hunter again (they faced each other at Fenway in the previous series). Boston had no trouble roughing up Hunter who went six innings but allowed five earned runs on nine hits with three strikeouts.

The Red Sox' already severely undermanned outfield suffered a further blow this afternoon when word came out that Cody Ross is likely to miss 6-8 weeks after breaking a bone in his foot. Ryan Sweeney is out with a concussion and could be put on the seven-day DL. Kevin Youkilis is expected to return to the team tomorrow which means that Will Middlebrooks will stay around too, the issue will be how to get their bats along with Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz all in the same lineups.

Che-Hsuan Lin started for the first time in his MLB career, in right field, and he registered his first hit along with his first run.

Middlebrooks (3 hits, run, RBI) has done more than enough to prove he belongs but he had another big night just in case. Boston had 14 hits (every starter had at least one hit) as a team with Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, 2 RBIs), Mike Aviles (2 hits, run, RBI) and Daniel Nava (2 hits, run, RBI) all collecting multiple hits in the win.

Chris Davis (2 hits), last seen closing out the Red Sox in that absurd 17-inning win at Fenway, was the only Oriole to have more than one hit.

Aviles' RBI single in the third made it 1-0 Boston and Pedroia followed with a sacrifice fly.

Buchholz completely lost his command in the third as Baltimore scored its four runs on a walk, infield single, walk and a double play ball. Davis's (6th of the season) solo homer in the fourth gave the O's a 5-2 lead.

Ortiz got the rally started in the sixth with an absolute blast (442 feet) to right, a solo shot that was his 10th of the season. Nava added a run on a sacrifice fly and Middlebrooks tied it at five when he scored on Hunter's balk.

Boston put two more runs on the board in the seventh, thanks to Adrian Gonzalez's sacrifice fly and an RBI single by Middlebrooks.

Matt Wieters had an RBI single in the eighth but Hill got Davis to ground out with two runners on. Padilla forced Betemit to fly out to shallow left and he struck out Nick Johnson to end the threat. Padilla has surprisingly become a very reliable set-up man for the Red Sox, he's stranded all 15 inherited he's faced this season.

A pair of young lefties meet tomorrow night (7:05 p.m., NESN) as Felix Doubront (4-1) faces Brian Matusz (3-4) in the middle game of this three-game series that could shake up the AL East.

UPDATE 5/22: Ross went on the DL and Scott Podsednick was called up from Pawtucket to take his spot in the outfield. Sweeney went to the seven-day DL for his concussion, Youkilis was activated and Dice-K was moved to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster.

Bass's Career Night Carries Celtics To One Game Away From Eastern Conference Finals

If you asked me to pick the Celtic that would basically save their season in the playoffs, the odds are that Brandon Bass would never come up in my first four choices.

However, shame on me since Bass was the player that woke Boston up after a quiet first half tonight against the Sixers. He scored a career-high 27 points, including 18 in the decisive third quarter, as the C's beat the Sixers 101-85 in the pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Garden.

Bass is the only player from either team to score in double-figures every game so far in this series but nobody could have seen this explosion coming. He even had three dunks in the third quarter, something he very rarely does.

The Big 3 improved to 8-0 in Game 5s when Boston has been tied 2-2 heading into it and they also moved to 5-1 this postseason on their home court. Most importantly, they erased the bitter taste of Game 4's choke and moved one win away from another trip in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Philadelphia controlled play for the first two quarters as they led 27-23 after one and 50-47 at halftime. Honestly, the Celts were lucky to only be down by three points since the 76ers were making seemingly every shot and Boston wasn't playing with any sense of urgency. Philly was up by six early in the third quarter before the Celtics woke up with a 14-2 run. They closed the frame on a 10-2 spurt as Bass outscored the Sixers by himself (18-16).

There would be no epic collapse by the C's tonight as they wrapped it up with a strong fourth (26-19) thanks to some rock solid defense. It also helped that Boston lived at the free throw line (26 for 33) compared to Philadelphia (10 for 16), a typical NBA byproduct of being in front of the home fans. The Sixers unraveled in the second half as it felt like they turned it over on nearly every possession. Philly's 15 turnovers led to 18 points for Boston.

Bass also had six rebounds while Kevin Garnett (20 points, 6 rebounds), Rajon Rondo (13 points, 14 assists) and Paul Pierce (16 points) all played their parts. Greg Stiemsma made the most of his minutes with 10 points and three blocks off the bench. Avery Bradley missed the game due to his shoulder injuries (plural) so Ray Allen started for him but only had five points in 33 minutes. If Bradley is out longer, the C's have to find a way to get Allen more involved in the offense.

Elton Brand had by far his best game of the series with a team-high 19 points. He picked a bad time to play like that since most of his teammates were no-shows. Lavoy Allen was the next highest scorer with 12 points off the bench. If Doug Collins is set on Brand in the starting lineup (which was rewarded tonight), maybe he should consider starting Allen over Spencer Hawes (10 points) who has been awful. Evan Turner had 11 points and 10 rebounds while Jrue Holiday scored 10 points with seven assists. Andre Iguodala was held to eight points in the loss.

We all know how much the Celtics like to make things difficult on themselves so I'm expecting them to play worse in Game 6 on Wednesday (8 p.m., TNT) in Philadelphia. Plus, the Sixers will get the benefit of the calls. Still, it would behoove the C's to wrap it up since the Western Conference Finals are set (Spurs vs. Thunder) and they need to close out Philly. No reason to give them any hope and prolong this series even further when it should already be over.

Patriots Sign Their Newest Cult Hero-Nate Ebner

If you were a college star in some manly sport other than football, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick already likes you. Who could forget that Stephen Neal, a champion collegiate wrestler, didn't even play NCAA football but he became a solid offensive lineman with New England before retiring last year.

Now, Belichick will try to work his magic with the team's 2012 sixth-round pick (197th overall), defensive back Nate Ebner from Ohio State. A legendary rugby player for the Buckeyes (look him up on YouTube), Ebner walked on to the football team and was named Ohio State's outstanding special teams player in 2011 after appearing in 12 games.

Today, he became the fourth Patriots draft pick from the 2012 class to sign, joining new teammates Tavon Wilson (defensive back), Jeremy Ebert (wide receiver) and Alfonzo Dennard (cornerback). This leaves first-round picks Chandler Jones (defensive end) and Dont'a Hightower (linebacker) along with third-round selection Jake Bequette (defensive end) as the three rookies that have yet to sign with New England.

Once the preseason starts in August, assuming he's still on the team, it should be fun to see Ebner flying around on special teams and in the secondary. You know Belichick would like nothing more than to mold him into a role player that coaches, fans and other players on his team love.

It's a thankless job but everyone enjoys a guy that can supply some big hits on kickoffs and punt returns that get his team and the lame Gillette Stadium crowd fired up.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Beat Goes On: Red Sox Clinch Another Series Win In Philadelphia

Even though they're in different leagues, the Red Sox and Phillies play basically every season during interleague play and Boston hadn't lost a series at Citizens Bank Park since 2003.

This season was no different as the Red Sox (20-21, 11-10 away) clinched the series (2-1) this afternoon with a 5-1 win over the Phillies (21-21, 10-11), who are really missing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley's big bats in their ravaged lineup.

Boston has won eight of their last 10 games so perhaps, now is the time they finally start putting things together and beating quality opponents. This series was nice but truthfully, Philadephia has been just as mediocre as Boston so I don't read too much into the final result.

Showing what a mess the Phillies offense is, Josh Beckett (4-4) was able to completely dominate them. The Texas Toughguy went 7.2 innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits with five strikeouts and two walks. His stuff looked good today with 22 called strikes and 12 swinging strikes.

Before the game I felt this was a layup for Philadelphia with Cliff Lee (0-2) on the mound but I guess it was a classic case of a reverse lock. Lee went seven innings but he was hit hard: he allowed five earned runs on nine hits with six strikeouts and a walk.

Mike Aviles (2 hits, 2 RBIs) was the unlikely offensive star of the weekend for the Red Sox, he homered in all three games, including leadoff shots last night and today (first guy to do that for Boston since Harry Hooper in 1913). Adrian Gonzalez had two hits and scored a run while Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit the third longest home run (466 feet) so far in MLB this season.

Aviles' leadoff homer in the first was his eighth of the season. He added an RBI single in the second before Salty's (7th of the season) moonshot to center in the third inning, a three-run jack.

Philly's lone run came in the eighth on Juan Pierre's sacrifice fly. On a day when Beckett was great and Lee was average, it only made sense (in bizarro world) that David Ortiz played very well defensively at first base. Vicente Padilla relieved Beckett and walked Hunter Pence to load the bases but retired Ty Wigginton on a grounder to second.

After getting humbled by the Baltimore Orioles (27-15, first place in the AL East) in a three-game sweep May 4-6 at Fenway, the Red Sox have a chance to exact some revenge as they travel to Camden Yards for a three-game set beginning tomorrow night.

Clay Buchholz (4-2) faces Tommy Hunter (2-2) tomorrow (7:05 p.m., NESN), Felix Doubront (4-1) gets Brian Matusz (3-4) on Tuesday night (7:05 p.m., NESN) and Daniel Bard (3-5) opposes Jake Arrieta (2-4) on Wednesday afternoon (12:35 p.m., NESN).

At 3-2 so far on this eight-game road trip, Boston has extra motivation since they finally get a day off (Beckett will probably shit his camo pants) on Thursday after 20 games in 20 days.

Red Sox Snap Phillies' 6-Game Win Streak Thanks To 4 Homers

The Red Sox survived some shaky pitching to outlast the Phillies 7-5 tonight at Citizens Bank Park in the middle game of the interleague series.

Jon Lester (3-3) gutted out six innings for Boston (19-21, 10-10 away) which is much more than Joe Blanton (4-4) gave Philadelphia (21-20, 10-10 home). The Red Sox snapped the Phillies' six-game win streak and recovered nicely from Friday night's 6-4 loss.

Lester allowed four earned runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and a walk. Blanton has pitched well this season for the Phillies but in my eyes, he's still the same soft-tossing fat toad that used to play in Oakland. In 4.1 innings, he allowed seven runs (six earned) on nine hits with four strikeouts.

The ball kept going out of the park at an alarming rate but luckily, Boston hit four of the five home runs-all off Blanton. Three of the four Red Sox bombs were solo shots, something that they need to work on (hitting them with runners on base).

Bobby Valentine mixed and matched his bullpen once again but it worked. Vicente Padilla was charged with a run but Rich Hill got his one out and Alfredo Aceves notched four outs for his ninth save of the season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (3 hits, 2 runs) showed no ill-effects from the 12 stitches he received on his left ear Friday night. David Ortiz (2 hits, 2 RBIs) and Will Middlebrooks (2 hits) also had multiple hits for Boston.

Philadelphia amassed 15 hits but they were only 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position. John Mayberry Jr. (3 hits, run, walk), Shane Victorino (3 hits, RBI) and Hector Luna (3 hits, run, RBI) all had three hits while Ty Wigginton (2 hits, run) and Freddy Galvis (2 hits, 2 RBIs, run) put up a pair of hits.

Mike Aviles led off the game with his seventh home run of the season. Boston added a pair of runs in the second inning. Victorino got the Phillies on the board in the third with an RBI double before Salty (6th of the season) and Middlebrooks (5th of the season) hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth.

Luna had an RBI single in the fourth and Galvis (3rd of the season) hit his second homer in as many nights, a two-run shot that cut it to 5-4.

Ortiz's (9th of the season) two-run homer in the fifth were the insurance runs the Red Sox needed as the Phillies scored once more in the eighth on Jimmy Rollins's infield single.

Josh Beckett (3-4) faces Cliff Lee (0-1) tomorrow afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN) in the series finale. I'd be shocked if Lee doesn't pick up his first win of the 2012 season; there's no chance Beckett doesn't allow at least two or three homers.

UPDATE 5/20: The Red Sox recalled outfielder Che-Hsaun Lin and optioned first baseman Mauro Gomez to Pawtucket.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Celtics Could Write A Manual On How To Not Close Out Series/Opponents In The Playoffs

I'm fairly certain as long as you live (and watch NBA basketball), you'll never see another game like the one between the Celtics and Sixers that we all witnessed this evening.

Boston opened Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on a 14-0 run. They parlayed that into a 46-31 halftime lead and increased it to as much as 18 (49-31) early in the third quarter. From there, the Celtics proceeded to gag it away until it turned into an unforgivable 92-83 loss.

It is not hyperbole to say that it was one of the worst losses (in terms of leads) in franchise history; Boston tied its record for biggest halftime lead blown in a playoff game so there's that.

So how does a team seemingly in complete control of a game and on the verge of taking over the series, fall apart in such epic fashion? The easiest explanation is that Boston's foul trouble caught up to them as Brandon Bass (15 points) and Avery Bradley (8 points) each picked up four fouls by the third quarter so they had to sit for long stretches.

Using the spirit of their superb head coach-Doug Collins-the Sixers are too young to give up even in a game that seems doomed like this one. They kept fighting, going to the basket and taking advantage of Boston's 17 turnovers which they turned into fastbreak points (27-13).

Any Celtics fan will rightfully complain about the free throw disparity: Boston shot 16 of 19 while Philadelphia was 25 of 36 but I can't pin the loss solely on that shady number and simply some homecooking NBA referees. Because to do so would mean that the C's deserved to win Game 4 and they most certainly did not since they peed down their leg Miami Heat style in the second half (37 points).

Big picture, I am still confident that Boston will win this series but this loss is troubling in that it mirrors their failure in the first round (vs. Atlanta) to step on a team's throat when it's down (in that case up 3-1). The Celtics had a great opportunity to really seal this up and get some rest but now it is a three-game series and they're guaranteed to have another game in Philly.

Paul Pierce had his second straight quality performance, he led Boston with 24 points and six rebounds. Rajon Rondo had 15 points and 15 rebounds but Kevin Garnett was held to nine points (3 for 12 from the floor), 11 rebounds and three blocks. KG committed a wretched seven turnovers.

Andre Iguodala led Philly with 16 points and seven rebounds, he hit a monster 3-pointer and a jumper in crunch time. Evan Turner (5 for 22 from the floor) had 16 points and nine rebounds while Jrue Holiday notched 11 points and seven rebounds.

The story of the game was the benches: the Sixers reserves outscored the Celtics 44-12. That's not a misprint. Lou Williams scored 15 points with eight assists, Thaddeus Young had 12 points, nine rebounds, Jodie Meeks tossed in nine points and Lavoy Allen put up eight points and 10 rebounds.

When you look at the box score, it's hard to believe that Philadelphia had to make such a crazy comeback since almost every statistic favors them. Philly had 14 more rebounds overall (52-38) including 12 more offensive boards (17-5), two more steals (9-7) and eight more points in the paint (34-26). Boston shot better (42.3%-37.8%), hit two more 3-pointers (7-5), dished out five more assists (23-18) and blocked four more shots (6-2).

If I know the Celtics, they'll follow their usual script of coming back with a win after a disappointing loss. We should have remembered that they like to fall short in the games following blowout victories. Still, if they get by the Sixers, we need to remember this Game 4 plus Game 5 of the Hawks series as the ones that got away from the C's.

Game 5 is Monday night (7:00 p.m., TNT) back at TD Garden. Boston split their first two games there in this series, winning Game 1 by a point and losing Game 2 by a point.