Thursday, April 24, 2008

Greetings from Sunny Florida

Apologies for the extended break. As most working stiffs know, anytime you've got a vacation coming up, the week before (and for that matter, the week after) are pure hell.

I'm currently sunning my ample arse in Bradenton, Florida, inside a gated golf resort enclave that I must say is pretty damn nice. The weather has been positively spectacular, and of course, with our timing and luck, so has the weather back home. Nothing like clicking on and seeing the old folks frolicking on the shores of Nantasket Beach. Not that we wish our family and friends back home bad weather, but... I guess we do. But no complaints here whatsoever. Still can't figure out why we live in the Northeast.

Anyway, enough about that. Let's catch up a little on the sporting scene, beginning with today's solid debut - albeit a wasted one - by Sox rookie pitcher Justin Masterson. The kid threw a gem against a very good team, but, as has been the trend so far this season, the lead eroded when the middle relievers (hello, Javy Lopez and Manny Delcarmen) answered the call. In the end, Masterson goes six, gives up two hits, one run, walks four, and K's four - and gets nothing to show for it. 'Twill be interesting to see what his immediate future holds. Probably heading back down route 95 to Pawtucket. In the end, the Angels take two of three from the Sox at Fenway, with a caveat that we had to skip Beckett and Dice-K, and didn't have Jason Varitek - all because of a rampaging flu bug.

Turning to hoops, the Celtics have sprinted to a somewhat easy 2-0 lead over the Atlanta Hawks in their first-round series. No surprise there. The big story has been Hawks' guard/idiot Mike Bibby, who called out C's fans this week as being bandwagon jumpers. Whatever, Mike. That bandwagon is currently leaving treadmarks on your ass.

We all know how the Bruins-Habs series ended, and while it was a disappointing finale, you have to give the B's credit for making the Canadiens work for it. The 5-4 win in Game 6 will go down as one of the great ones. And it hurts a bit to wonder what the injured Patrice Bergeron would have brought to the table.

As for the local pro football entry, the NFL Draft - quite possibly the most overrated, overhyped sporting "event" of the year - is happening this weekend. Drink every time you see or hear Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, and you'll be passed out within a half-hour. Pats currently have the 7th pick, and I'm not even going to project who they might get. Let's just say probably someone pretty good.

Provided, that is, that commish Roger Goodell doesn't dock them yet another pick. News broke yesterday - and ESPN was ALL OVER IT don't ya know - that the league had finally reached an agreement with scumbag Matt Walsh to see what kind of evidence he has. He'll be meeting with Goodell on May 13. Let's get it over with. Even if Walsh has new, incriminating evidence, good luck proving that Coach B sanctioned it. There's nothing he can produce that will take anything away from what the Patriots have accomplished - and will continue to accomplish - this decade. They have the softest schedule in the league in 2009 and could easily go undefeated again and be right back where they were. If they do, they ain't losing this time.

And finally... why do I have a picture of the SNL Cowbell skit up there? Well, I'm heading over to Tropicana Field tomorrow night to see the Sox play the Rays. And it just so happens that the Rays are giving all fans who enter the park with some sort of Rays' gear on a cowbell. See, they want them to ring the cowbell every time a Sox batter has two strikes on him. But they forgot something kind of important - 60% of the fans will be Red Sox fans, who may just use the giveaway against the home team. Either way, I'll have a game recap for you Friday night after the festivities.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Borowski. Polish for "Not Good"

Scintillating comeback win for the Sox last night in Cleveland. They trailed 4-1 at one point, and ended up winning 6-4 on a huge Manny Ramirez home run in the top of the 9th off Indians "closer" Joe Borowski. The Sox tied it at 4 thanks to a Julio Lugo double down the line, a sacrifice bunt by Coco Crisp that moved Lugo to third, and a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia. After that, Big Papi got his second hit of the game, Tito pinch-ran Jacoby Ellsbury for him, and then Manny smashed his 493rd career homer off Borowski, who may be looking for work soon. The only sour note was Jon Lester's lackluster performance.

In other news, as you know already, the Yankees unearthed the David Ortiz shirt that would have cursed the organization and the new ballpark into eternity. Wouldn't you have loved to have been a fly on the well when the braintrust was discussing what to do? Absolutely beautiful. And maybe it will be a reverse curse, as Big Papi had two hits last night.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Topping it Off

Putting a cherry on a jam-packed sports Sunday here in the Hub...

- Someone in MLB's corporate offices needs to take a look at the length of these damn ballgames. Last night's Sox-Yanks series finale was a four-hour affair, which, combined with Dice-K's maddening tendency to be too fine with mediocre hitters, made for a long, drawn-out night. Add to that the fact that we had to listen to Joe Morgan's "analysis" and it was downright excruciating. MLB needs to get at the root cause of these long games. Let the home plate ump call a ball if a pitcher's taking too long, or a strike if a batter is stepping out of the box repeatedly. Do something.

- At least the wait was worth it. The Sox took the series from the Spanks with an 8-5 win, despite having Big Papi on the bench for a mental health day, and a less-than-stellar Dice-K. We'll take it. The boys are on to Cleveland tonight for a three-game set.

- One last thing on Sox-Yanks. It didn't take very long for the Yankees braintrust (and I use that term lightly) to excavate the David Ortiz shirt that was buried underneath the new stadium. While I expected them to do this, it still blows me away that a) they believed it might lead to a curse, and b) they paid a construction crew overtime to dig it out of several feet of concrete. Here's hoping it's a reverse curse of sorts, and Big Papi starts swinging the lumber the way we've all become accustomed to.

- How 'bout those Bruins?? Struggling to get some good pub in this sports-crazed town, the Bruins came up big last night against the Canadiens in a must-win game at the Garden. For a while, it looked like a great effort was going to be wasted yet again. But the B's came through in overtime on a sweet feed from Dennis Wideman to Marc Savard, and they're right back in it. Say what you want about the state of the NHL, but it's become a more exciting game and there's nothing quite like playoff hockey.

- As much as I can't stand them, I have to give props to the Boston College men's hockey team. They were struggling at the mid-year point, but as usual, Jerry York had them flying when it matters most. All they did at the Frozen Four was outscore their opponents by a 10-2 margin. Makes me believe even more that the coach at my alma mater - UNH - needs to be scrutizined a bit. Someone else agrees with me.

- And of course, it was Masters weekend. Not the most riveting tournament, but still a treat to watch. South African Trevor Immelman took advantage of Tiger's putting woes to win.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sports Sensory Overload

Thank you, Mr. Remote Control inventor, whoever you are. Thank you Sony. Thank you Verizon high-def. Thank you Captain Morgan. Thank you sister-in-law, for inviting my wife and kids up to Portland tonight for a play date. I'm here at home having my own little play date.

Holy crap, what a sports day! A quick rundown: Red Sox vs. Yankees at Fenway kicked it off. The game started at 4 and is actually in a rain delay right now. Situation was Sox up 4-3 in the top of the 8th... Yanks have men on first and second... Papelbon facing A-Rod. So, um, it kind of was stopped at a crucial time. We'll see what happens.

Next, the venerable Masters. Nothing like watching Augusta National in high definition. Tiger's 4 shots back, I believe, after doing some nice catch-up work today. Trevor Immelman is in the lead. Tonight, you've got the Bruins playing Montreal in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. B's lost Game 1 and are trailing 2-0 right now. I want to get behind the Bruins, but it's so hard not to be a cynic about this team. The Celtics are also in action tonight, playing the Hawks in a meaningless game. And you've got the NCAA hockey championship going on between BC and Notre Dame. BC, which incredibly has been in the last three title games (0-2) is in command so far with a 3-1 lead.

The post-Super Bowl sports dead zone is so dead.

I'll end on this note, since the Sox and Yanks are playing this weekend. It's uncanny how the karma between the two franchises has shifted since Grady Little's brain fart in the 2003 ALCS. Of course, the most obvious evidence is that the Sox have won two titles this decade, while the Yankees have won zero. But consider these other forces at work: Roger and Andy were fingered in the Mitchell Report. A red hawk that lives at Fenway attacked a schoolgirl named Alexa Rodriguez last week. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are injured. They paid Randy Johnson millions and decided not to pay the price for Johan Santana. George is old and frail and hopefully about to die (kidding, Lord). And just when you think that's it, there's this beauty. Evidently, when the new Yankee Stadium was being built, a Red Sox fan on the construction crew buried a David Ortiz shirt in the foundation to cast a spell on the Yankees. Because the story came out in the New York Post, there was some back and forth over whether it was true or not. The stupid Yankees actually came out and said that it was a late April Fool's joke. Today, the Post (three reporters no less!) followed up with a story quoting the guy who buried the shirt, some mid-40 worker named Gino who's been a lifelong Red Sox fan. I think he may have been lurking somewhere in the picture above, looking for a shovel. Something tells me Gino might want to move to the woods of Idaho pretty quickly, or he may be swimming with the fishies.

And how's this for a finish to the post - the Sox and Yanks just resumed play, and Papelbon struck out all four guys he faced for the victory.

Okay, back to my play date.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Home Cooking

Well, we'll see if an extra day of sleep and relaxation helps our tired bunch of Sox today. The home opener is on tap today at Fenway for a 2:05 start, with Dice-K going against Kenny Rogers. You've got a jet-lagged team going against a shockingly winless team in the Tigers, who many predict will be in the Fall Classic.

It's hard to put into words, but Opening Day here in Boston always feels good. Everyone's a little happier, people are playing hooky from school and work to be at the game, there's a buzz in the streets of Back Bay, and - as an added gift from Mother Nature - it's actually going to be a pretty nice day weather-wise for some ball.

Oh - and there's this little banner and ring ceremony before the game to get you completely in the mood. As far as I'm concerned, the 2008 season begins today.
I'd be remiss if I didn't expend a few words on last night's classic college hoops championship game. First, though, a quick disclaimer: I'm not a college hoop afficionado even in the slightest; I don't watch the sport at all until March Madness, but always make sure to watch the championship game (mostly because CBS lets me get caught up on the whole tournament with "One Shining Moment"). Last night's game was just a pure treat to watch, with two extraordinarily talented teams going at each other for a full game and then an overtime. Memphis and coach John Calipari will be kicking themselves for eternity after squandering a 9-point lead with 2 minutes to go in regulation. The contributing factors to their demise? Turnovers, good Kansas D, a timeout that wasn't called, and - what everyone kept saying would ultimately be the Tigers' downfall - missed free throws, especially in the clutch. As soon as Jayhawk junior Mario Chalmers hit that epic three to tie it and send it to overtime, you just knew Memphis was all done.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bring Us Home, Josh

I come today to pay homage to the months of April and October. If you're a sports fan, these two months bear the greatest gifts by far. April is awesome because baseball is just starting up, you've got the NBA and NHL playoffs, NCAA hoops, the Masters, college hockey, the NFL draft. In fact, did you know that the word 'April' is derived from the Latin 'aperiere' - meaning 'to open?' Consider yourself educated. In October, you've got playoff baseball, the NFL in full gear, basketball and hockey seasons starting up, college football. Oh, and yours truly was born in October, which was obviously a historic moment in the world.

But enough of that gobbledygook. There's a hell of a lot going on so let's get to it...

* At this very moment, Josh Beckett and the Sox are playing their weekend finale against the Blue Jays in Toronto. It's Beckett's debut this year, and his stuff so far looks unhittable. Looks like he's picking up right where left off, and it couldn't have come at a better time. The Sox need him to be a stopper today after losing the first two, including yesterday in embarrassing (10-2) fashion. Win today, day off tomorrow, rings and banner on Tuesday. Incredibly, they've been on the road since March 19. Jacoby Ellsbury just went deep to give the Sox a 1-0 lead.

* As for the on-field performance so far, it's way too early to call anything a trend. The middle-relief has looked shaky. Dice-K and Lester have each submitted a bad and good outing. Manny and Papi aren't stroking it the way they will. And to be perfectly honest, the opposing teams so far this year have gotten more of the little bounces that can collectively decide a game.

* The big surprise in the league so far is the loaded but winless Detroit Tigers, who are 0-5 heading into today's games. The big-name offense hasn't delivered, and the same could be said for the Yankees so far as well.

* In the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" department - I guess there are a couple of hawks that nest in and around Fenway Park. Last week during a school tour, one of the hawks swooped in on a young girl and did a little bit of damage to her forehead. The girl's name? Alexa Rodriguez, aka A-Rod.

* As for the Celtics, they hit the 60-win mark this week and clinched home court throughout the playoffs. It's officially the single greatest one-year turnaround in NBA history, and a lot of people around here - right or wrong - are thinking this is the year for banner number 17. At the very least, they have to get to the Eastern Conference finals to justify this season as a success, and I think that will happen and more. I'm calling for a rematch of that tremendous 1976 Finals between the Celtics and Suns.

* By the way, someone in the media needs to do one of those rambling, fawning profiles on Celtics GM Danny Ainge. Danny had a plan and stuck with it, got some luck along the way, and he's proven himself to be a pretty damn good evaluator of talent. Apart from the Big Three, the complementary pieces he's added through free agency and the draft (Posey, House, Rondo, Powe, Big Baby, etc.) have been very impressive.

* As for the Pats, nothing too big. Still no word from our little golf pro friend out in Hawaii. The latest news reports literally have Roger Goodell calling Walsh out to come forward with whatever "evidence" he has, which seems like a possible indicator that nothing else will be coming out. As I've said before, it's not good enough for this story to just die down and fade away, if that's indeed what happens. Someone needs to be held accountable for dragging the Pats' name in the mud, and it will be fascinating to see what Kraft's legal moves might be, if any. Does he want to keep the story alive and go after someone or just let it die?

* With the draft coming up (April 25-27), talk will start to heat up over what the Pats will do. Keep the #7 pick or trade up or down? I like this Gholston kid from Ohio State, but you just know Mangina will swoop in and tweak us by grabbing him. We shall see.

* One last note - you may remember my fondness and frustration for the University of New Hampshire men's hockey team. UNH always has a good team, but the knock on them through the years has been that they don't play well when it counts. Last year, I started to mention that the coach, Dick Umile, needs to be put under the microsocope a little more. I mean, I realize that it's college hockey we're talking about, but this guy signed a monster contract a few years back and he hasn't come close to delivering the goods. It's now the University of No Hardware. Anyway, an enterprising soul put together this site dedicated to putting Umile's feet to the fire. It gives you the year-by-year disappointments and it ain't pretty. Since 2000, they've played in 8 postseason games and have scored 11 goals. And they've been one and done each of the last three years. I'm working on my letter to the AD as we speak.

* Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Kansas-Memphis tomorrow night should be a pretty good one.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bob Kraft: Model Owner

In case you needed any more evidence that Pats owner Bob Kraft is one of the best owners in all of sports. SI's Don Banks reports on a surprise Spygate address both Kraft and Bill Belichick delivered to their fellow coaches and owners in Florida yesterday.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Opening Day, Part Deux

Hopefully the boys have caught up on their sleep since returning from Tokyo. Tonight - in a bit of deja vu - it's Dice-K against Joe Blanton in Oakland in the domestic regular season opener. I actually saw ESPN refer to yesterday's game as the domestic opening day for baseball. Has a nice ring to it, eh?

As for yesterday's games, let's just say if you're a closer it wasn't safe to come out of the bullpen. I think my favorite image - which I saw just as my eyelids were closing last night - was Eric Gagne giving up a huge 9th-inning bomb to the Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome. Some things never change. It's still unfathomable to me that Gagne's getting $10 million this year to throw gopher balls. What a country.

Anyway - nothing hugely exciting yesterday. The Yankees couldn't play their historic last opener in Yankee Stadium due to the rain. The Mets - behind Johan Santana - easily dispatched the weak Florida Marlins. The Indians and White Sox tangled in a barn-burner, and if you have Jim Thome on your fantasy team you're a happy camper. And the Tigers - a lot of peoples' pre-season World Series champ pick - went down to the Royals in extra innings.

A lighter schedule today, but we're jacked for some real Sox baseball.

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