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Sunday, September 30, 2012

After A Lackluster 1st Half, Patriots Still Manage To Hang 52 On The Bills In An Easy Win

The old sports cliche that says it was a tale of two halves was probably never more appropriate than this afternoon in Orchard Park, NY at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots (2-2) sleepwalked through much of the first half, en route to trailing the Bills (2-2) 14-7 at halftime. No problem though as New England outscored Buffalo 45-14 in the second half (31-7 in the 4th) for what turned out to be a 52-28 blowout victory.

No surprise that with such an insane offensive output (580 total yards), the Patriots were only the second team in NFL history (Packers, 2008) to have a pair of 100-yard rushers and receivers in the same game. Brandon Bolden (16 carries, 137 yards) scored a touchdown against the Ravens last week but this was the rookie's first real impact performance. Combine him with Stevan Ridley (22 carries, 106 yards) and New England's running game was unstoppable. Ditto for Tom Brady (22 of 36, 340 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) and the passing game, particularly Wes Welker (9 catches, 129 yards) and Buffalo native Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 104 yards, TD).

Ryan Fitzpatrick (22 of 39, 350 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs) is a wonderful story, coming from Harvard and being an NFL starter but he seems destined to be an average quarterback at best for the bulk of his career. He commits way too many turnovers to ever be consistently successful. For the game, Buffalo had six turnovers since C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson each had a fumble to go with Fitzpatrick's four interceptions.

Looking at the final score and statistics, it is easy to forget about Gronk and Welker's respective fumbles in the first half along with a pair of missed field goals by Stephen Gostkowski, not to mention the fact that the Bills led 21-7 early in the third quarter. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Pats could have scored in the 60-70 range without those unusual events.

It sounds silly to write this but New England's defense played well, except for their woeful safeties (Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory). Devin McCourty had two interceptions, Jerod Mayo and Tavon Wilson had interceptions, Brandon Spikes caused two fumbles, Wilson recovered one and Vince Wilfork picked up another.

Ridley's six-yard run was the only score in the first quarter. Buffalo had a pair of touchdown catches by tight end Scott Chandler (24, 20) to take a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. They could have been up more but Spikes crushed Spiller on the goal-line right before halftime and Wilfork recovered the football.

Things didn't look so hot when Donald Jones had a 68-yard catch and run on a basic slant early in the third quarter that went the distance. The Bills were up 21-7 but after that, the Pats rattled off a 45-7 burst.

Brady scrambled and found Danny Woodhead for a 17-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive then Brady tied it with a four-yard run. It was 21-21 heading into the fourth quarter so anyone's game, right? Turns out not so much.

Gronk caught a 28-yard touchdown right down the middle on the first play of the final frame. Ridley (2-yard run) and Bolden (7-yard run) capped off their spectacular days. Brad Smith caught a 35-yard touchdown from Fitzpatrick to cut it to 42-21 but Brandon Lloyd topped that with an unreal diving 25-yard catch for his first TD as a Patriot. Gostkowski ended his day 1 for 3 after hitting a 30-yard kick in garbage time.

Losing this game probably wouldn't have been fatal for the Patriots since they are in what has to be the worst division in football. Look around, the Dolphins (1-3) actually played well but lost to the Cardinals in overtime and the Jets (2-2) are a disaster after suffering a humiliating 34-0 loss to the Niners plus a possible serious injury to Santonio Holmes.

Let the hype begin, Papa John's pitchman Peyton Manning (ever hear of him?) and the Denver Broncos (2-2, 2nd in AFC West) come to Gillette Stadium on Sunday (4:25 p.m., CBS) for only the second home game of the season for New England. It's tough to get much of a read on Denver since three of their four games have been at home and today, they shredded the Raiders 37-6 which doesn't mean anything.

Manning doesn't have the same arm strength that he used to but with Demaryious Thomas, Eric Decker and Willis McGahee on offense not to mention Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller and Champ Bailey on defense, the Broncos are a quality team. They appear much more dangerous than the squad led by Tim Tebow that got trounced by the Patriots in the AFC playoffs in January.

Orioles Clinch 1st Playoff Spot Since '97; Red Sox Secure Worst Record Since '66

Two franchises in the AL East are heading in completely different directions. The Orioles (92-67, 47-34 home) clinched their first playoff spot since 1997 with a 6-3 win against the Red Sox (69-90, 35-43 away) this afternoon at Camden Yards and a win by the Rangers over the Angels tonight.

The loss means that Boston (losers of 5 straight and 16 of their last 22) has secured a Top-10 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, they are also one game behind Toronto for last-place in the AL East with three games remaining.

Baltimore swept the three-game series penultimate series of the regular season and they are still tied atop the AL East with the Yankees. On the other side of the spectrum, Boston locked up its first 90-loss season since 1966, you know 44 years ago. Facts like that really reinforce how this truly has been the worst Red Sox season that many of us have ever witnessed.

Joe Saunders (3-3) went 7.1 innings for the win. He allowed three earned runs on eight hits with five strikeouts. Darren O'Day got the last two outs in the eighth and closer Jim Johnson had a 1-2-3 ninth on seven pitches (haha) for his MLB-leading 50th save of the season.

Zach Stewart's (1-4) second start for Boston was even more pathetic than the first. The guy that was traded for Kevin Youkilis clearly won't be back next season, or at least I hope not since he obviously blows. In 2.2 innings, he allowed five earned runs on seven hits.

Baltimore scored three runs in the first and two in the second to put it out of reach immediately. Nate McLouth (2 hits, stolen base) had a lead-off homer (his 7th of the season), a run scored on a double play and Jim Thome's RBI single.

J.J. Hardy (2 hits, 2 runs) hit a solo shot (his 22nd of the season) in the third and the ageless Thome added another RBI single.

Cody Ross had a solo homer of his own in the fifth (22nd of the season) and Daniel Nava added a two-run blast in the seventh (his 5th of the season). In between, Chris Davis (31st of the season) hit his third homer in as many days with a solo homer in the sixth.

Our long regional nightmare is almost over, the Red Sox are finally on death row with their execution scheduled for Wednesday night around 10:30 p.m. Before that, they head to the Bronx for three games with the Yankees (92-67, tied 1st place AL East) to close out 2012.

Ryan Lavarnway was 2 for 4 with a double and run while Pedro Ciriaco was 2 for 4 with a double in the loss.

Clay Buchholz (11-7) faces C.C. Sabathia (14-6) tomorrow night (7:05 p.m., NESN), Jon Lester (9-14) takes on Ivan Nova (12-8) on Tuesday night (7:05 p.m., NESN) then Daisuke Matsuzaka puts the finishing touches on Boston's masterpiece as he opposes Hiroki Kuroda (15-11) on Wednesday night (7:05 p.m., NESN).

The two things you can count on if you bother to watch one second of this series: 1) the Red Sox will lie down like the losers they are and 2) the Yankees will get the sweep they desperately want.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Red Sox Serve As A Small Speed Bump As Orioles Tie Yankees For 1st Place In AL East

Once in a while in MLB, there is a great team that defies explanation. The Orioles are 28-9 in one-run games and 72-0 when leading after seven innings in 2012.

After the O's (91-67, 46-34 home) beat the Red Sox (69-89, 35-42 away) 4-3 tonight at an extremely rare sold-out Camden Yards, Baltimore is tied with New York (who lost 3-2 in Toronto this afternoon) for first place in the AL East with four games remaining.

Two more unlikely stars in a season full of them stepped up tonight for the Orioles as rookie Manny Machado and Chris Davis provided all the offense for a team that seems to be firing on all cylinders headed into October. Machado had an RBI single in the second and Davis hit a two-run homer (his 30th of the season) in the fourth inning for a 3-0 Orioles lead.

Boston tied it on Jarrod Saltalamacchia's two-run homer (his 25th of the season) in the fifth and a sacrifice fly by Cody Ross in the sixth. Machado's solo homer (his 7th of the season) provided the winning run in the seventh.

In his last start of the season, Felix Doubront (11-10) had his typical up and down performance which is how you could describe almost all of his starts in 2012. He went seven innings and struck out 10 which is good. However, he allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits including a pair of homers. Hopefully over the off-season, he realizes that strikeouts are overrated and innings/outs are way more important.

Steve Johnson (who?) went five innings for Baltimore, he allowed three earned runs on four hits with three strikeouts and three walks. Tommy Hunter (7-8) threw two scoreless innings of relief for the win and Orioles closer Jim Johnson had a 1-2-3 ninth with a strikeout for his MLB-high 49th save.

Joe Saunders (8-13) gets the ball tomorrow afternoon (1:35 p.m.) as Baltimore wraps up a sweep of the three-game set with Boston. Zach Stewart (1-3) plays the role of sacrificial lamb in his second start for the Red Sox. Godspeed son.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chris Tillman Threw A Gem & Ryan Flaherty Hit A Grand Slam As O's Crushed Red Sox 9-1

How do you know your season should have been over months ago? When luminaries like Chris Tillman and Ryan Flaherty are having career-nights against you.

Baltimore (90-67, 45-34) simply crushed Boston (69-88, 35-41 away) 9-1 at Camden Yards tonight in a series opener that didn't feel nearly that close. The Orioles remain one game back of the Yankees and comfortably sitting two games ahead of the Angels (one ahead of the A's) for the top AL wild card.

The only hit for the Red Sox in the entire game was a lead-off bunt by Scott Podsednik-the first batter of the game. Not getting no-hit allows them to shoot for something in their last five painful games.

Even if nobody has ever heard of him, Tillman (9-2) seems like a promising young pitcher (24) that is having a nice season. He went eight innings, struck out four and walked two.

This was over in a rapid 2:23, I guess Boston wanted to enjoy that legendary Baltimore nightlife, but the O's did most of their work in the first inning. Chris Davis hit a two-run homer (his 29th of the season) then Portland, Maine's Ryan Flaherty hit his first career grand slam (6th homer of the season) to make it 6-1.

In what could have been his last start in MLB, Aaron Cook (4-11) pitched like a guy that has nothing left and should hang it up immediately. He went 1+ innings and was charged with six earned runs. Alfredo Aceves was happy to add some gasoline to that fire as he gave up the other three runs on six hits.

Manny Machado (2 for 4, 2 runs) and Flaherty added RBI doubles in the fifth and Taylor Teagarden had an RBI single. Jim Thome was 3 for 4 with a run and Mark Reynolds had a double, two runs and a walk. Gee, do you think the Orioles are a team of destiny or what?

Boston's only run came courtesy of Dustin Pedroia (walk, stolen base) who drove in Podsednik with a sacrifice fly in the first. Yes, the Red Sox led 1-0 for the briefest of moments.

Felix Doubront (11-9) faces something called Steve Johnson (4-0) tomorrow night (7:05 p.m., NESN) who I'm sure will be lights out. Be sure to not watch a second of it.

Got Your Patriots-Bills Injury Report Right Here

We are 36 hours from the opening kickoff of Patriots-Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY. Today the injury report was released for both teams with some interesting inclusions.

Tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (hand) are both out for New England. Just like last week, 10 Patriots are listed as questionable: defensive end Brandon Deaderick (ankle), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), defensive tackle Justin Francis (ankle), tight end Rob Gronkowski (hip), defensive tackle Kyle Love (knee), guard Logan Mankins (hip), offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder), cornerback Sterling Moore (knee), running back Shane Vereen (foot) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back).

Most of those same players were questionable last week for New England against Baltimore and/or they are irrelevant and wouldn't play or contribute anyway. However, Gronk, Love, Mankins and Vollmer are the names to keep an eye on. Gronk and Love weren't on there before and they are very instrumental players; Mankins and Vollmer were questionable vs. the Ravens but they suited up because they are offensive linemen (toughest guys in football).

As usual, New England's opponent's injury report is much more brief. For Buffalo, only wide receiver Ruvell Martin (ankle) has been ruled out. Running backs Fred Jackson (knee) and C.J. Spiller (shoulder) are both questionable and it sounds like at least one of them will play. If for some reason they both don't, the Bills would be forced to start Tashard Choice. Major advantage Patriots in that case.

Stay tuned tomorrow night and before 1 p.m. on Sunday as I update who else will sit this one out.

UPDATE 9/29: Mankins didn't make the trip to Buffalo. Donald Thomas will start at guard in his place and also, the Patriots re-signed center/guard Matt Tennant. He was on the Pats for a few days before the season started and went to BC. Everyone is saying that Gronk will play, which is what we all expect.

Dennard, Deaderick and Francis are also out for New England. With Hernandez and Edelman already out, the Pats will need to sit one more guy tomorrow.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jason Varitek Named A Special Assistant To Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington

The 2012 regular season isn't officially over for a few more days (painful, right?) but the Red Sox began looking toward 2013 and beyond today by hiring former catcher Jason Varitek as a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington.

"Jason was one of the most respected players of his era and will be a key voice as we move forward," said Cherington. "He will be involved in a number of areas including Major League personnel decisions, evaluations, mentorship and instruction of young players. We are fortunate to have him in this role."

When he was back in town this week for the needless eighth-year anniversary of the 2004 World Series squad and the All-Fenway team the next night, Varitek admitted to the bored and beaten down media that he was on the verge of a new role in Boston. This at least temporarily ends the speculation that he could replace Bobby Valentine as manager next season. That might sound like a crazy idea but Mike Matheny (Cardinals) and Robin Ventura (White Sox) have both proven this season across MLB that prior managing experience is overrated.

We can argue about what this job really entails for Varitek but more than anything, I think it is recognition by the franchise that getting back to their championship roots would be a good thing. This is the third season in a row that the Red Sox haven't made the playoffs which is an eternity around here, especially with the type of payroll and expectations they routinely possess.

I've said all along that by far the most interesting part of 2012 for the Red Sox will begin next Thursday (the day after the regular season ends). Fingers and toes crossed that Valentine will be rightfully fired and then Cherington, John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino get a second chance to make a much better hire. If they could also speed up the process and not take way too long, that would probably help the public perception. Baby steps with this group as they try to dig out of the wreckage from the last miserable 13 months.

There Goes Kellen Winslow Jr.'s Shot At The Patriots Hall Of Fame

Blink and you missed the entire extent of Kellen Winslow's time with the Patriots in 2012. Today, the high-strung tight end asked for and promptly received his release from the team a mere nine days after signing with New England in the first place. So in other words, his tenure here was about as long as your typical relationship in middle school.

We'll never really know what Winslow has left since he got on the field for a total of four plays on Sunday against the Ravens (which earned him $48,529, really). He had a 12-yard catch and dropped another pass that was right in his hands (not all that difficult) on the sideline. The good news for Patriots fans is that Winslow probably saw the writing on the wall at his position. Aaron Hernandez reportedly was seen in the locker room today without crutches or a protective boot which makes you think he'll be back in a few weeks and maybe he won't be out as long as we all thought after getting injured against the Cardinals.

With Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez (whenever he returns), Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui, New England is more than set for tight ends this season. In a couple weeks, we probably won't even remember that Winslow was ever here to begin with. He'll be one of those million transactions that happen during every NFL season that never end up meaning anything.

Don't forget that the Pats also have Visanthe Shiancoe stashed away on the new IR/designated to return list, which means he should finally see the practice field in a few weeks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Red Sox Put The Finishing Touches On The Worst Season At Fenway In 47 Years

At some point this season, when we all realized how bleak things really were on Yawkey Way, we either did two things: 1) stopped watching all together or 2) half paid attention but became completely numb to it all.

Tonight, the Rays (85-70, 41-36 away) beat the Red Sox (69-87, 34-47 home) 4-2 at Fenway Park to sweep their mini two-game series. The result will be an important footnote for Boston since it wrapped up the nightmare 2012 regular season at home. Would you believe the Red Sox home record this year is their worst since 1965? Let that sink in for a moment.

Tampa Bay won its seventh straight game to remain three games back for the second AL wild card. Haverhill native and Northeastern's Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer (his 19th) in the fifth inning then Ben Francisco (4th of the season) went back-to-back for a 3-1 Rays lead. Jose Lobaton made it 4-2 in the seventh with a ground rule double.

Jeff Keppinger was 2 for 4 with two runs and Ben Zobrist was 2 for 4 with a double in the win.

Boston's runs came on Daniel Nava's RBI single in the second and James Loney's sacrifice fly in the sixth. Dustin Pedroia walked twice, stole two bases and scored a run in the loss.

Rookie Alex Cobb (10-9) got the win for the Rays. He went five innings, allowing one earned run on three hits with five strikeouts and three walks. After Kyle Farnsworth allowed a run, Jake McGee (6th, 2 strikeouts), Wade Davis (7th, 2 strikeouts) and Joel Peralta (8th, 1 strikeout) all had clean innings of relief. Closer Fernando Rodney walked Loney to lead off the ninth but he recovered to strike out two for his 45th save of the season. His ERA is 0.63, hence why he should receive his fair share of AL Cy Young votes.

Jon Lester (9-14) was charged with the loss for the Red Sox. He went six innings, allowing three earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts and a walk. Mark Melancon struck out four of the five batters he faced (what?) and Craig Breslow struck out the side in the ninth.

Boston is off tomorrow and then they play three in Baltimore this weekend followed by three in New York to finish this brutal campaign. Both teams look like they'll make the playoffs since the Yankees lead the Orioles by 1.5 games in the AL East and the O's are up half a game on the A's for the top wild card.

Aaron Cook (4-10) faces Chris Tillman (8-2) on Friday night (7:05 p.m., NESN). Felix Doubront (11-9) gets Steve Johnson (4-0) on Saturday night (7:05 p.m., NESN) then Zach Stewart (0-1) closes out the series and September against TBA on Sunday afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN) when we'll all be tuned into Patriots at Bills.

Belichick Fined $50,000 By The NFL; Terrell McClain Signed, Marcus Forston Released

In a normal work week during the regular season, Wednesday is usually the day where the Patriots start to focus on the next opponent and begin their practices. Most times, nothing of any real note or importance comes out of Wednesdays but that was not the case today.

The most interesting news for the team came off the field this afternoon as head coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 by the NFL for putting his hand on a hapless replacement referee following Sunday's rough 31-30 loss to the Ravens. In addition, defensive tackle Marcus Forston was released with defensive tackle Terrell McClain getting signed to take his spot (probably the 53rd on the 53-man roster).

We had all been waiting with baited breath (haha not really) to see how much Belichick would get docked since no matter who you are, you can't put your hands on an official in any pro sport. It was laughable to hear Tony Massarotti say on Felger and Mazz Monday that Belichick should be suspended, there was no chance that the NFL would dare do that to their marquee coach. That money means nothing to him, assuming he even pays it and it's not covered by Patriots owner Bob Kraft.

The only possible victim in this situation is Belichick's cougar girlfriend Linda Holliday. If Bill had to pull fifty grand out of his white athletic socks (next to his challenge flags), she might have to cancel one of her daily shopping trips to Newbury Street. Some things in life just aren't fair and the world loses something special when Linda isn't looking her best.

Forston was an undrafted free agent that made the team this summer. The extent of his playing time with the Patriots was eight snaps in Baltimore on Sunday. McClain is seen as insurance in case defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick (ankle) can't play on Sunday against the Bills, he missed the Ravens game. McClain was a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2011 (65th overall). In 12 games, he had 19 tackles (13 solo, 6 assists), one sack and one fumble recovery. He was released at the end of the preseason by Carolina and missed the end of the 2011 season with a knee injury that shelved him on IR. It makes you wonder how that injury has healed since he was a free agent through the first three weeks of the 2012 regular season.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

David Price's Gem Leads The Rays To Their 6th Straight Win, 5-2 Over Red Sox

Like Keith Richards or Lindsey Lohan, the Rays are impossible to kill. They simply never go away no matter what the long odds they might face. When the Red Sox left Tampa Bay last week, it looked like they had barely a sliver of hope to make the playoffs.

They are still three games back of the A's for the second wild card spot but Tampa Bay (84-70, 40-36 away) is doing all they can to stay in the race. Tonight, behind David Price's (19-5) fourth career complete game, the Rays beat the Red Sox (69-86, 34-46 home) 5-2 at Fenway Park in the series opener for their sixth straight win.

It was Price's second complete game of the season and it couldn't come at a better time for him or his team. He has to be the front-runner for his first AL Cy Young award. He allowed two earned runs on seven hits but struck out a season-high 13 and didn't walk anybody in 112 masterful pitches.

Clay Buchholz (11-8) couldn't match Price's sheer dominance. In six innings, he allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits with five strikeouts and two walks.

Jeff Keppinger (2 hits, 2 runs) had a three-run homer (his 8th of the season) in the second to stake Tampa Bay to a 3-0 lead. After Danny Valencia's RBI single in the home half of the second and a run scoring in the third on Price's balk, Boston was never heard from again. Jose Molina (2 hits) added a two-run single in the sixth to wrap it up for the offensively-challenged Rays.

Ben Zobrist (2 hits, double) and Evan Longoria (2 hits, run, walk) also had multiple hits in the win. Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, double) was the only Red Sox with more than one hit, not surprising since him and Cody Ross were the lone Opening Day starters left in the lineup. It was basically PawSox night at Fenway.

Tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) is the final game at Fenway this season. After that, we won't see the Red Sox in town until next April which is probably the most appealing sentence I've ever written on this blog. Jon Lester (9-13) gets to put the cherry on top of his dogshit sundae of a season when he faces Alex Cobb (9-9).

Mike Felger On Roger Goodell: "He's a Bitch"

Please Felger don't hurt 'em!!!

I know most people either love Mike Felger or hate him, but he's entertaining as fuck on the Sports Hub's Felger and Mazz and is 100% dead on with this. I've given Roger Goodell a lot of shit in my last few posts but I never really thought about the relationship he has with the owners. I always referred to it as "Goodell and the owners this" and "Goodell and the owners that", when in reality he does whatever they say because he's a lawyer who is protecting his interests.

Felgy realizes that Goodell is just the face of this disaster, basically calling him Spider from Goodfellas. I love it. I'd take Felger over that narcoleptic loser Mike Francesca every day.

PS - Sorry about the audio cutting out, it was first time trying this. Blame my 25-year-old Droid X phone.

Tuukka Rask, Rich Peverley & Dennis Seidenberg Next Wave Of Bruins En Route To Europe

With this NFL referee nonsense being the biggest story in sports, the mere mention of the word hockey gets me excited.  So anything that remotely involves the Bruins is going to get covered here on Boston Bias until the NHL and their owners decide to come to a fair agreement with the players.

Last week, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci, Anton Khudobin and Andrew Ference signed contracts with various European teams. Today goaltender Tuukka Rask, winger Rich Peverley and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg have all followed suit, taking their talents overseas to Europe.
Rask, who was slated to be Boston's starting goalie by default, will join HC Pizen of the Czech Extraliga. According to reports, he will most likely miss their first two games but be available for their September 30th matchup against HC Sparta Praha. HC Pizen won the coveted tipsport Hockey Cup in 2011 but is currently sitting in eighth place.
Peverley has signed on to play in Rask's home country of Finland, agreeing to terms with JYP Jyvasklya. JYP has a talent exchange program so to speak with the Bruins since 2010, meaning that certain players are able to train with each clubs' farm system. JYP also won their league's championship last season.
Finally, it was rumored last week that Seidenberg would play in Germany (his home country) and he has done so formally, signing with Adler Mannheim. He will be joining his younger brother on the roster and has played previously for the squad from 1998-2001.

Who's next? Patrice Bergeron and Shawn Thornton have also been in the latest batch of rumors to be thinking about joining their Black and Gold teammates in Europe.

Okay, I'm Out...

Ladies and Gentlemen, the moment you have all been waiting for!!!

They finally did it. With the nation watching last night on Monday Night Football, the replacement referees screwed up so badly that it actually cost the Packers a football game. If you didn’t see it, (and I didn’t until after the game because I am boycotting as best I can) it was one of the most absurd plays/calls/endings of all-time as Seattle was handed a fraudulent 14-12 win at home.

On the last play of the game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back and threw a hail mary to wide receiver Golden Tate. Tate, blanketed by several Green Bay defensive backs, went up for the catch but did not come down with the ball. Instead, Packer cornerback M.D. Jennings clearly intercepted the football. With Tate tugging at the ball, two referees came over and decisively called the play correctly. Just kidding, one signaled a touchdown and the other signaled that time had expired, in one of the most hilarious/pathetic/embarrassing moments in sports history.

Did they communicate with each other at all verbally? Of course not.  Simply looking at one another for a millisecond before giving two separate rulings would suffice. What a joke.

And if you thought Brandon Spikes’ tweet was bad, check out what Packers guard T.J. Lang tweeted after the game “Got fucked by the refs… Embarrassing. Thanks nfl.” Followed by “Fuck it NFL..Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.” At this point, I’m willing to chip in as well.

To make it worse, we then had to watch Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll (former Patriots coach) jump up and down and pump his fist like he had just won the damn Super Bowl. Jesus, how much punishment do Packers fans need right now?

This has gotta be it for Goodell and the owners right? I mean it was all fun and games when guys were running around wondering where to spot the ball, losing control of football games and taking 10 minutes to get clarification on a ruling. Now games are being lost as a direct result of these guys' incompetence. I don’t care where they have officiated before; there is no way anyone could have looked at that play last night and thought anything but interception.

If money is the top priority for the NFL and its owners, than public relations has to be priority 1-A. Thanks to these bozos, the running theme of this season so far has been the referees. Think about that for a second.

I didn’t watch last night because I have no interest in watching a knockoff version of the NFL. That is the only way that the owners will take notice. If Goodell and the owners want to salvage any part of this season, they have to accept pretty much anything that the referee’s union wants at this point.

At this point, the referees should double what they are asking for and if that doesn’t work, maybe Ed Hochuli can physically assault anyone standing in his way. All I know is Bill Belichick isn’t putting his hands on those guns.


Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Pretty Clear Bill Belichick & Brandon Spikes Aren't Fans Of Replacement Refs

Wow! Tell us how you really feel Brandon! Seriously though, he's got a point, although he's probably got a fine coming as well as a reprimand from Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick (well maybe not Belichick, more on that later).

I know it's becoming commonplace to bash these replacement referees but last night's debacle in Baltimore was Exhibit A of why this cannot go one week longer but hey we all still watched, so what do the owners care? As Steve Young said on ESPN last week after a brutal Monday Night Football game, the owners will still eat their cake.

I honestly had no idea these guys would be this bad, I mean it's not like we are dealing with replacement players right? However, just three games into the 2012 NFL regular season, the fans, players and coaches are being victimized by the absolute incompetence of the replacement referees.

Look, I get it. Replacement refs are people too and are doing the best job they can but that isn't the issue here. We are all fed up with the NFL owners' refusal to comply with the referees' unions request for pretty much whatever the fuck they want as this point. Everyone is pissed but the owners know that come kickoff on Sunday, we are all going to tune in no matter what.

Coaches and now players are starting to speak out. Check out some statements from the NFLPA's letter to NFL owners:
"Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity," the NFL Players Association wrote. "This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build."
Last night's performance by the referees was unprofessional, inconsistent, random and embarrassing. On a weekend when every NFL team paid tribute to Steve Sabol for his contributions to the game we love, it has taken Roger Goodell and the owners just three weeks to put that same game in the hands of guys who would be overmatched officiating intramural flag football.

We saw headshots go unpunished. We saw "illegal contact" penalties left and right. We saw guys not have a clue where the hell to spot the ball. We saw coaches instructing referees on the rules of the game they are paid to officiate. We saw games across the slate moving at a snail's pace because owners can't/won't pony up the chump change it takes to restore some semblance of order to the most popular game this country has ever seen."

 It got so bad that Belichick almost coded on the sidelines on numerous occasions and then after the game did this:

Who wouldn't react the same way? Honestly, I hope he went to Kraft's office today and did the same thing to him!

Imagine if the crew that we had last night (best crews referee the marquee games) performing like this in the Super Bowl in February! It is simply unconscionable.

In fantasyland, the NFL would wake up after watching this but in the real world, we all know this is going to continue. We'll all still watch too.

Patriots Suffer Another Devastating Loss, 31-30 To Ravens On Shady 27-Yd Field Goal

The esteemed Jerry Thornton of Barstool Sports said in his weekly Knee Jerk reactions piece (every Monday or Tuesday after a Patriots game) last Monday that the Patriots never lose in mundane fashion. This was after they fell 20-18 to the Cardinals last week on Stephen Gostkowski's missed field goal attempt.

They felt the other side of that pain tonight as once again they lost in another spectacular way, 31-30 against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Through incompetence of the replacement refs and the inability of New England's (1-2) defense to make a play/get a stop/get off the field, they allowed Baltimore (2-1) to move down the field and set up rookie Justin Tucker for a 27-yard field goal.

Of course in a game that featured 24 penalties (10 on New England, 14 on Baltimore), this had to end in a controversial manner: Tucker's chip shot appeared to go directly over the right goal post. Luckily with the clock nearing midnight on the East Coast (really) and no replays on field goals (really?), this gongshow was complete.

The easy thing to do which will no doubt be the choice of most Patriots apologists this week is to simply blame the officials. They were only part of the problem as the endless skirmishes after the whistle attest to. Let's start with the defense giving up 503 total yards plus 28 first downs and only 1 tackle for loss to the Ravens, including a monster performance from Joe Flacco (28 of 39, 382 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT), 150 yards for Ray Rice (101 rushing, 49 receiving, 1 rushing TD) and an incredible moment for Torrey Smith (6 catches, 127 yards, 2 TDs), who played after his younger brother tragically died this morning in a motorcycle accident. Steve Gregory had a gift interception and 37-yard return but other than that, the Pats defense didn't make any plays. Pressures, hurries and knockdowns were few and far between and they didn't have any sacks of Flacco.

The main reason the Pats find themselves under .500 for the first time in nine years (0-1 in 2003; but how'd that year turn out?) and 1-2 for the first time since 2001 because as usual, they couldn't protect a fourth-quarter lead (30-21). Stephen Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal put the Patriots up 30-21 with 14:10 left in the fourth but those were their final points. Smith cut it to 30-28 with a 5-yard touchdown catch with 4:01 left. New England moved the ball but Tom Brady (28 of 41, 335 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) was sacked then had to throw it away on third down.

While this game was going on, a main subplot was Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron locked into a battle of can you top this in horrible playcalls with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. I'd say the edge goes to McDaniels since even though Cameron called a handoff to rookie Bernard Pierce on 4th and 1-stopped by Patrick Chung-McDaniels beat him with sheer volume of baffling decisions. An end around to Julian Edelman worked once, why not try it again on the same drive? Danny Woodhead had a few decent runs, let's give him more carries than Stevan Ridley. On and on it went with a guy that suddenly doesn't seem like the wizard we remember from 2007. Now he appears much more like the guy in over his head in Denver and also fired last season in St. Louis.

Brady threw a touchdown pass for the 35th straight game, the fourth longest streak in NFL history. Brandon Lloyd (9 catches, 108 yards) and Wes Welker (8 catches, 142 yards) gave him a combination that the Ravens could never really stop. With no Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski (2 catches, 21 yards; 3 targets) was just another guy. I guess Baltimore double-teamed him but doesn't the best tight end in the NFL need more touches than that?

Befitting a team that has become a frontrunner the past few seasons, New England jumped out to a quick lead then faded as the game went on. Gostkowski had a pair of field goals (37, 49) sandwiched around a 2-yard score by undrafted rookie running back Brandon Bolden (1st of his NFL career) in the first quarter for a 13-0 advantage.

The Ravens woke up in the second quarter with Flacco and Smith connecting on a pretty 25-yard touchdown. Dennis Pitta's 20-yard catch and run was a disgrace since Gregory and Devin McCourty had the most pathetic tackle attempts (called out by NBC's Cris Collinsworth) that you'll ever see.

Brady answered with a masterful 2-minute drill, still his specialty, that was capped off by a 7-yard touchdown pass to Edelman over the middle with two seconds remaining in the half. New England led 20-14 at halftime.

Cameron remembered that his team had Rice in the third quarter, his 7-yard run made it 21-20 but Woodhead answered with a 3-yard score.

My head hurts from all the terrible calls, on both sides. I can also admit that McCourty needs to make a play when Flacco throws him multiple easy interceptions that he dropped. He also picked up a pass interference on the final drive when Flacco's ball was underthrown to Jacoby Jones (3 catches, 86 yards) and he didn't adjust properly.

The best outcome from this whole debacle is that it was the final straw that makes NFL owners (wake up Bob Kraft!) realize they need to get the real referees back in the games. After the Falcons-Broncos nightmare on Monday, this contest similarly in the national spotlight was more of the same dangerous slop. Plus, have you noticed how much longer these games are? Good lord, they are pushing four hours which is way too long for any sporting event (sorry Red Sox-Yankees).

The good news for the Patriots is that their schedule eases up for a while. They play the Bills (2-1) in Buffalo on Sunday (1 p.m.). Fred Jackson got hurt in Week 1 and C.J. Spiller was hurt early in today's game which means New England will likely be facing Tashard Choice. If there is anything you can count on in this crazy mixed up world, it's that the Patriots own the Bills. Until they prove us otherwise, I will keep clinging to that fact this week and beyond.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Now Seems Like A Perfect Time For Felix Doubront's Best Start Of His Career

I thought Felix Doubront should have been shut down weeks ago since what was the point of still running him out there? He's one of Boston's few pitching prospects that has a bright future.

For one day, the Red Sox (69-85, 34-45 home) proved there was some method to their madness as he helped them beat the Orioles (87-65, 45-33) 2-1 this afternoon at Fenway Park.

The win allowed Boston to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of Baltimore which wasn't hurt too badly since New York lost to Oakland, keeping them one game back in the AL East and one game ahead of the A's for the top AL wild card spot.

Doubront received a no-decision but that won't stop me from raving about his outing which I saw about three seconds of: he went seven innings and allowed one earned run on four hits with 11 strikeouts (a career-high) and two walks.

Junichi Tazawa (1-1) had a 1-2-3 eighth inning on six pitches and closer Andrew Bailey survived two hits and a walk (loading the bases) to record his sixth save. He forced Manny Machado into a fielder's choice then struck out Ryan Flaherty to end it.

Chris Tillman gave Baltimore a solid start: six innings, one earned run on six hits with four strikeouts and a walk. Today the thing that will likely bury them in the playoffs-their lack of offense-bit them in the ass.

Cody Ross scored on Robert Andino's throwing error in the fourth as Boston led 1-0. Machado tied it with an RBI single in the fifth but Ross responded with an RBI double in the eighth which plated Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, double).

Scott Podsednik added two hits in the win. Afterwards, Ross admitted that he has already started negotiations with the Red Sox on a new contract since he's currently playing on a 1-year deal. It would be one of the only smart decisions Boston has made in the last few seasons, Ross has done everything and more you could ask of him in this trying year (his first here).

The Red Sox are off tomorrow then they host the Rays (83-70, 3rd in AL East; 3.5 out in wild card) for two games. Mercifully, it's the last series at Fenway in 2012. Personally I can't wait for Spooky World to open there in October, forget playoff baseball. That's way more fun and important.

Clay Buchholz (11-6) will face David Price (18-5) on Tuesday night (7:10 p.m., NESN) for the second time in a week. Jon Lester (9-13) takes on Alex Cobb (9-9) on Wednesday night (7:10 p.m., NESN). Boston won two of three in Tampa Bay last week at the Trop.

UPDATE 9/24: Yesterday, the Red Sox recalled outfield Che-Hsuan Lin. I don't know why they didn't do this earlier since he's just been sitting around since Pawtucket's season ended last week. Weird.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Out Of Nowhere, The Orioles Are Having Some Kind Of Insane Regular Season

Nobody and I mean nobody expected the Orioles to be .500 in 2012, let alone jockeying with the Yankees for first-place in the AL East and in firm control of a wild card spot. Somehow devoid of a superstar (Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are very good players but not really at that level) or ace pitcher, Baltimore finds itself on the cusp of its first playoff bid since 1997.

Obviously with a team that comes out of nowhere like this, they will possess many insane statistics but my favorite is this: the Orioles (87-64, 45-32 away) won their 16th straight extra innings game this afternoon with a 9-6 win in 12 innings over the Red Sox (68-85, 33-45 home) at Fenway Park.

Boston fell to 0-7 in extra innings games this season at home and 2-9 overall. Baltimore led 6-3 but Boston scored twice in the seventh on a pair of RBI ground outs then tied it on Scott Podsednik's (double, run) RBI double in the eighth.

Once it got to extra innings, you knew the Orioles had this one wrapped up. The only question was who would the heroes be? If you said Jim Thome (RBI double), Endy Chavez (RBI single) and Manny Machado (RBI single; 3 for 6, run) you truly have a special gift.

Baltimore closer Jim Johnson extended his franchise record by tossing a scoreless 12th for his 47th save of the season.

Consider me shocked that Randy Wolf (5 innings, 3 earned runs, 7 hits, 2 strikeouts, 2 walks) and Aaron Cook (5.1 innings, 5 earned runs, 9 hits, 1 strikeout, 2 walks) didn't have the instant classic pitcher's duel that wasn't predicted by anybody in the world.

Adam Jones (2 hits, double, 2 runs, 2 RBIs) had an RBI ground out in first which gave the O's a 1-0 lead. Ryan Lavarnway (2 RBIs) tied it with an RBI single in the home half of the frame. Baltimore tacked on a run in the second on Machado's RBI single then all or nothing slugger Mark Reynolds connected for a solo homer (his 22nd of the season) as Baltimore opened up a 3-1 lead in the fourth.

Danny Valencia tied it with a two-run bomb (his 3rd of the season) in the fourth. Portland Maine's Ryan Flaherty (2 for 4, double, 2 RBIs, 2 walks) had a two-run triple in the sixth and Jones cranked a solo shot in the seventh (his 31st of the season).

Alfredo Aceves (2-10) was charged with all three runs in the 12th so he received yet another loss in what has been a nightmare second half for the mercurial pitcher. I wouldn't put it past him to intentionally tank just to spite Bobby V. He's that batshit crazy.

Baltimore will look for a three-game sweep tomorrow afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN) as Chris Tillman (8-2) faces Felix Doubront (11-9). On an NFL Sunday aka Red Zone to the face time, it would take a large sum of money for me to watch that game let alone take time out of my precious day to attend it.

You Know You've Made It When They Name A Generic Cereal After You

Proving that Rob Gronkowski's popularity knows no bounds, Gronk Flakes is a real thing that will be available at Stop & Shop grocery stores around New England starting this week. Far be it from me to question the marketing geniuses that came up with this wonderful product but wouldn't something different like say an energy drink be a bit more interesting?

I've never really understood the allure of buying a Frosted Flakes knockoff that has your favorite athlete-Doug Flutie, Justin Verlander, Olympic heroes-on it but maybe that's just me. Apparently, Gronk is such a draw that Patriots honks will shell out their hard-earned money for some crappy cereal with his goofy face on it. No word on when Julian Edelman Flakes hit the shelves.

According to ESPN's intrepid Darren Rovell, there is an initial order of 64,800 boxes that will be sold for $3.99 each. As far as I can remember, I don't recall another pro athlete in New England that has received the same treatment. Believe it or not, Tom Brady has never been on a cereal box. I'm sure back in the day, Ted Williams or Yaz were on a pack of cigarettes, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito were probably on a six-pack of some shitty beer and Larry Bird might have been on a box of cheap condoms.

As a true Patriots fan, do your part and purchase this completely unnecessary cereal. Why not 10? They would make a great birthday/anniversary/Christmas present. God knows that Gronk and the Pats (who undoubtedly get a cut) need the money.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jon Lester's Perfect Record Against The Orioles Had To End At Some Point

Until I was reminded of it earlier today, I had almost forgotten about Jon Lester's absurd career record against the Orioles: 14-0 in 20 starts.

It only made sense that in this abomination of a season that Baltimore (86-64, 44-32 away) would finally put an end to that with a 4-2 win against Boston (68-84, 33-44 home) at Fenway Park.

With the Yankees win against the A's, the Orioles kept pace at only one game behind New York for first-place in the AL East.

Miguel Gonzalez (7-4) did the honors as he went 6.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and a walk. Reliever Darren O'Day pitched 1.2 clean innings and closer Jim Johnson set a new team record with a scoreless ninth for his 46th save of the season.

Lester's (9-13) terrible campaign is almost over. He went seven innings but allowed four earned runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and three walks.

Matt Wieters (2 for 4, double, 3 RBIs, run), Adam Jones (2 for 3, double, 2 runs), Mark Reynolds (2 for 4, RBI) and Robert Andino (2 for 2, walk) all had multiple hits for the O's.

Pedro Ciriaco (2 for 4, double, run, RBI), Daniel Nava (2 for 4, double, run) and Scott Podsednik (2 for 4) had two hits apiece for the Red Sox.

Ciriaco's RBI double in third gave Boston a 1-0 lead. Wieters temporarily put Baltimore ahead with a two-run single in the fourth. Dustin Pedroia tied it at two with an RBI single in the fifth. Wieters' RBI double and Reynolds' RBI single in the sixth gave the Orioles the 4-2 advantage that would stick.

I'm pretty sure it is still 2012 but tomorrow afternoon's (1:10 p.m., NESN) pitching matchup is straight out of the National League in like 2006: Aaron Cook (4-10) vs. Randy Wolf (5-10). Be sure not to watch a second of that wretched contest. The weather is supposed to be nice and it's a college football Saturday, what more do you want?

Patriots-Ravens Injury Report Plus 2 Patriots Fined From Last Week's Game Vs. Cardinals

It's only taken three weeks in the 2012 regular season for the Patriots to start to employ their usual tricks on the injury report. Today, they listed 10 players as questionable while also designating Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and defensive tackle Justin Francis (ankle) out for Sunday night's game vs. Baltimore.

The funny part is that the Ravens clearly don't bother pulling the same stunts since they only list one player as doubtful: offensive tackle Jah Reid (calf). Other than that, everyone else is probable which isn't even worth mentioning if you ask me.

For New England, guard Dan Connolly (concussion), defensive end Brandon Deaderick (ankle), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), tight end Daniel Fells (shin), wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (thigh), guard Logan Mankins (hip), offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder), cornerback Sterling Moore (knee), running back Shane Vereen (foot) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) are the long list of questionable players.

The most important guys for the Patriots in that group are Connolly, Lloyd, Mankins and Vollmer. Their offensive line is the biggest weakness on the team and those guys are basically all the best players at that position so yikes. Hopefully they can all suit up against Baltimore for what should be a close, great game.

In other Pats news, safety Steve Gregory and linebacker Jerod Mayo were both fined today related to the 20-18 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. Even though he wasn't penalized on the play, Mayo was fined $21,000 for what the NFL deemed unnecessary roughness on a hard hit of Arizona wide receiver Early Doucet. They thought he hit a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area although when it happened, it just looked like a clean hit. Gregory was fined $7875 for a late hit on tight end Todd Heap. Ironically, he was penalized on the play along with linebacker Brandon Spikes (for roughing the passer). That's what makes it strange that Spikes wasn't fined and Mayo's fine was way higher than Gregory's. Who knows?

Stay tuned tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon as we learn what Patriots will be inactive for the game against the Ravens which is on Sunday Night Football (8:20 p.m., NBC).

UPDATE 9/22: New England declared Deaderick and Dennard both out for tomorrow night. Before kickoff, the Pats will make three additional players inactive.

UPDATE 9/23: Vereen, McDonald and defensive end Jake Bequette are the other inactives for the Patriots. Sergio Kindle, Reid, Asa Jackson, Billy Bajema, DeAngelo Tyson, LaQuan Williams and Bryan Hall are all inactive for the Ravens. I've only heard of the first two guys but no major losses there for Baltimore.

You Knew The Rays Wouldn't Go Down That Quietly, Especially Against The Red Sox

The Rays probably won't make the playoffs this season, since they are 5.5 games out of the second AL wild card with 12 games to go. However, it was nice of the Red Sox to leave them with a parting gift for their dozens of fans.

Boston (68-83, 35-40 away) led 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning tonight at Tropicana Field, poised to take three out of four from Tampa Bay (80-70, 41-34 home). That's when Andrew Bailey (1-1, 2nd blown save, 5 earned runs) completely imploded and the Rays rallied for a wild 7-4 walk-off win on B.J. Upton's (double) three-run homer (24th of the season) off Vicente Padilla.

Carlos Pena had cut it to 4-2 with an RBI single and Desmond Jennings (3 hits, double, 2 runs, 2 RBIs) tied it with a two-run single.

It had been a pitcher's duel with Clay Buchholz (7 shutout innings, 4 hits, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks) performing even better than AL Cy Young frontrunner David Price (7.1 innings, 3 earned runs, 8 hits, 7 strikeouts, 1 walk).

This should have been remembered (mostly by me) as Jose Iglesia's big offensive output. After collecting just two hits in his first 37 at bats this season, he went 3 for 4 with two runs including a solo homer (the first of his MLB career) in the ninth which made it 4-1. It was nice to see something positive after all the bullshit he had to put up with from Bobby V's unfathomable move to pinch-hit for him mid-at bat. He deserved that.

Cody Ross broke the scoreless proceedings with an RBI double in the sixth. Ryan Lavarnway (2 for 4, run) added an RBI single in the frame and Mauro Gomez's (2 hits) RBI triple in the eighth gave Boston a 3-0 advantage.

Ben Zobrist got the Rays on the board with a sacrifice fly in the eighth that seemed innocent enough at the time.

Hallelujah, Boston comes back to Fenway for its final homestand of 2012. They play three against Baltimore (85-64, 2nd AL East, tied with Oakland for wild card lead) and then two against Tampa Bay after an off-day on Monday.

Tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) Jon Lester (9-12) takes on Miguel Gonzalez (6-4). It is Aaron Cook (4-10) vs. Chris Tillman (8-2) on Saturday afternoon (1:10 p.m., NESN) then Felix Doubront (11-9) faces TBA on Sunday afternoon (1:35 p.m., NESN). The Orioles have been arguably the best story in MLB this season; they have pulled out countless extra innings and one-run contests. I don't know how they have made it happen but it's exciting to watch and it looks like they are a lock for October. Good for them.

UPDATE 9/21: Red Sox recalled pitchers Zach Stewart and Pedro Beato along with third baseman Danny Valenica from Pawtucket.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bruins Start To Leave The Hub: Seguin, Krejci & Ference Set To Play In Europe

One day after the NHL announced that they are canceling preseason hockey in September, three prominent members of your Boston Bruins have reportedly signed contracts overseas.  Can Kathryn Tappen join the KHL Network?

Tyler Seguin, who just signed a monster extension that keeps him in Boston for six more years, has signed with EHC Biel, a club in the Swiss League.  Seguin would have been entering his third professional season, and a year overseas should help his production (depending on the party scene out there).

Joining Seguin in European action is defenseman and environmentalist Andrew Ference.  Ference, a Bruin since 2007, will report to HC Ceske Budejovice on October 7th, a team that I will hopefully never have to type again on this blog. It's in the Czech Republic.

David Krejci is also close to an agreement with HC Pardubice, a team in his native Czech Republic.  Goalie Anton Khudobin has joined HC Atlant Moscow Oblast (awesome name) of the KHL.  Dennis Seidenberg also told Joe Haggerty that he is planning on playing in Germany as well on a team with his younger brother.

Many players are flocking to Europe to play (and get paid) with leagues like the KHL who cover up to 65% of players salaries.  I for one am glad that players are staying active, however lets hope there are no injuries or any other nonsense.  Actually scratch that, I hope the NHL comes back before these guys get a chance to fall in love with Europe.

UPDATE 9/24: The mass exodus continues as Tuukka Rask will sign with HC Plzen of the Czech Republic and forward Rich Peverley will head to Finland to play for JYPin.

Keyon Dooling Abruptly Retires & The Celtics Sign Darko Milicic To Veteran's Minimum

I didn't expect to be talking about the Celtics whatsoever today but they made two minor moves that are worth mentioning: guard Keyon Dooling retired after 12 years in the NBA (1 in Boston) and center Darko Milicic was signed to a veteran's minimum deal.

That means the Celtics have 13 guys guaranteed under contract heading into training camp, meaning one spot is up for grabs with guards Jamar Smith, Dionte Christmas and rookie Kris Joseph expected to be vying for it. Dooling leaving helps all those guys immensely, it gives them better odds of making it.

Dooling wanted to spend more time with his family which is understandable and you have to respect his decision since he was at the end of the line. The weird thing was that the Celts signed him to a veteran's minimum deal in July. It sounds like a cliche but his value at this point was about mostly off the court contributions, rather than games. Even in the short time he was here, you could sense that he was a great leader that everybody respected. Boston will need someone else to step up and be watchful of Rajon Rondo next season, who is always liable to be a pill.

Milicic is famously known as one of the biggest busts in the last decade of the NBA. The No. 2 pick by the Pistons in the 2003 draft, ahead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh among others, the native of Yugoslavia has never done anything remotely close to justify that spot. This will be his sixth NBA team in 10 years (Pistons, Magic, Grizzlies, Timberwolves-twice and Knicks).

Obviously with that deal, there is no risk on Milicic and he actually provides a decent backup for a position that basically didn't exist last season for the C's: center. Kevin Garnett played there most of the year and stiff Jason Collins was also signed this offseason to provide more bodies (and fouls). For his career, Darko has averaged 6.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in 18.5 minutes.

Since Nenad Krstic's brief spell in Boston two seasons ago, the Celtics have lacked a big goofy European. If nothing else, Darko should fit the bill well in that regard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Red Sox Officially Clinch Their First Losing Season Since 1997, Thanks Dice-K

It's been a formality for weeks, hell maybe even months, that this would be the Red Sox' first losing season since 1997 (15 years!); still, it is perfectly fitting that Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6) was the losing pitcher in the game that put them officially over that super depressing edge.

Tampa Bay (79-70, 40-34 home) snapped its four-game losing streak with a 13-3 laugher tonight at Tropicana Field against Boston (68-82, 35-39 away). The Rays dormant offense exploded for 15 hits (6 extra base hits) and 10 walks. Tampa Bay was up 5-3 until they hung seven runs in the sixth on Red Sox relievers Alfredo Aceves (4 earned runs) and Daniel Bard (3 earned runs).

In what I pray is his final outing in a Red Sox uniform, Dice-K was shelled for five earned runs on nine hits in three innings. Like Josh Beckett earlier this season, all I want is to see Matsuzaka leave this team. He is pitiful and a constant reminder of where dumb spending on free agents gets you.

Rookie Chris Archer (1-3) picked up his first MLB win with five innings of work. He allowed three earned runs on five hits with six strikeouts and four walks.

Jacoby Ellsbury (3 for 3, 2 RBIs) and Pedro Ciriaco (2 for 4, 2 runs) had the only hits for the Red Sox.

Jeff Keppinger (3 for 4, 2 runs, 2 RBIs, solo homer) led the Rays with Carlos Pena (2-run homer, 2 runs, 3 RBIs, 3 walks), Desmond Jennings (2 for 5, 2 runs, 2 RBIs, walk, triple), Luke Scott (2 for 3, run, RBI, walk, double), Matt Joyce (2 for 3, 2 RBIs, 2 walks, run) and Jose Molina (2 for 3, run, RBI, walk, double) also coming through at the plate.

This four-game series ends tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) with the one juicy matchup of the week: Clay Buchholz (11-6) vs. Cy Young candidate David Price (18-5). With a decent college football game on (Boise State vs. BYU) and even better NFL game (Panthers vs. Giants), odds are that I will only flip to Red Sox-Rays during commercials or halftime.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Red Sox Beat The Rays Again, 7-5 This Time

When the Rays look back on the 2012 season after they miss the playoffs, they can point to the last two nights as one of the main reasons they are watching October on TV like the rest of us slobs. Somehow a nine-inning affair took 4:09 and honestly, it felt like longer than that.

The Red Sox (68-81, 35-38 away) rallied for a 7-5 win tonight at Tropicana Field, the second game in a row that they've beaten Tampa Bay (78-70, 39-34 home) to start this critical series for the sons of Joe Maddon.

Ironically, Boston has won four of five and looks somewhat rejuvenated while Tampa Bay appears lifeless and accepting of the fact that they are done. The Rays have lost seven of their last eight games and four straight. Unbelievably, the Red Sox are 9-5 against the Rays this season, including a 5-2 mark at the Trop.

Felix Doubront (11-9) was effectively wild. In six innings, he allowed three earned runs on one hit with five strikeouts and five walks. After Ben Zobrist's two-run single in the third and Evan Longoria's sacrifice fly, he settled down immensely.

Jeremy Hellickson was kept on a short leash. He went four innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.

The Red Sox chipped away as the Rays struggled to get anything going at the plate (3 hits, 8 walks). James Loney had an RBI single in the fourth then Boston tied it with two in the fifth on Jacoby Ellsbury's RBI single and Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly.

The go-ahead run scored on an error by Sean Rodriguez in the sixth. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had an RBI single in the seventh and Ryan Lavarnway (2 hits, run, walk) stroked an opposite field two-run double in the following at bat.

Clayton Mortensen was charged with two runs in the seventh (on a two-run single by Zobrist) but Craig Breslow had a clean eighth inning after inheriting a runner and Andrew Bailey recorded his fifth save with a scoreless ninth.

Cody Ross was 2 for 4 with a double, two runs, a walk and stolen base.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5) faces rookie Chris Archer (0-3) tomorrow night (7:10 p.m., NESN) in what amounts to a must-win for Tampa Bay.

Patriots Cap A Busy Day At Gillette By Bringing Back Deion Branch

When wide receiver Deion Branch was cut on August 31 as the Patriots trimmed their preseason roster down to 53 players, it was a pretty surprising development. However, I think most smart fans realized there was a good chance that he would be back soon enough this season in Foxborough.

It only took a little more than two weeks (and two games) and I'm happy to report that Branch has reached an agreement to return to New England. Apparently it was such a foregone conclusion that the team left his locker in place at Gillette Stadium. Aaron Hernandez's injury likely was the main catalyst for Branch's return since they'll need to find a way to duplicate Hernandez's production with multiple guys.

At 33, Branch is pretty long in the tooth for an NFL receiver but he put up decent numbers last season: 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games. Most importantly, he knows Tom Brady better than probably anyone that has ever played with him. Plus he's an outstanding leader and great teammate so you can always use a guy like that, especially in a time like this with the uncertainty surrounding the Wes Welker/Julian Edelman situation.

To make room for Branch and Kellen Winslow, the Pats released wide receiver Greg Salas, linebacker Mike Rivera and fullback Lex Hilliard. It's not hyperbole to say that those were probably the last three guys on the roster anyway. Salas never played since coming over from St. Louis a few weeks back, Rivera was only on special teams and Hilliard occupies a forgotten position.

It'll be interesting to see how much Branch and Winslow play on Sunday against the Ravens. It's shaping up to be a huge game since both teams are 1-1 and each are coming off a disappointing loss last Sunday. Baltimore has won 20 of its last 21 games at home so it is going to take a special effort from New England to beat them. If I had to put money on it, I would guess that Branch is more likely to see the field since he knows the playbook from last season and this preseason. One would think Winslow will need more time to get up to speed.

UPDATE 9/19: Filling that last roster spot, the Patriots also brought back linebacker Niko Koutouvides. He played in the last 11 regular season games and three playoff games last season. He was a staple of all four special teams units, which were a disaster on Sunday against the Cardinals.

Salas will return to the practice squad according to's Mike Reiss.

UPDATE 9/20: With Salas back, wide receiver Kerry Taylor was released from the practice squad.