Friday, May 30, 2008

Perk, "33", the Sleeve and the Refs

I can't believe I'm about to type these words but the Boston Celtics are one win away from going to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. This is all thanks, of course, to the huge Game 5 victory the other night that saw KG put up 33 (33 - a good omen?), Ray Allen re-discover his shooting touch - with a new fashion accessory no less, and Kendrick Perkins showing off his beastly talents in the paint. There were certainly some tenuous moments - as the Celts frittered away an 18-point lead and let the Pistons climb back into it - but they held on for a 106-102 win.

KG - as he has been all postseason, save for Pierce's explosion against the Cavs in Game 7 - has been the best player on the floor. In Game 5, he continued to show the outside scoring touch, but also was more aggressive inside and didn't fade in the fourth quarter. Allen was immense, particularly down the stretch when he nailed a crucial long-range jumper and hit some free throws to ice it. Ray Ray showed up wearing a white sleeve on his non-shooting arm, and whatever it was meant for, it worked. And what can you say about young Perk? You can see him getting better each game, and he just took over in Game 5, putting up 18 points and grabbing 16 boards, many of which came at big junctures momentum-wise.

One other quick observation - have NBA referees always had this much of an imprint on the game? Aren't they supposed to be seen and not heard? From what I've seen in these NBA playoffs of 2008, David Stern ought to take a very hard, close look at his refs and make some changes. I understand fouls are going to be called and they're part of the game, but they shouldn't completely take over the flow of a game with their omnipresent whistles. It's been extremely annoying to watch, kinda like watching a Dice-K outing. Anyway, Game 6 tonight at the Palace.

As far as the Sox, yeccch. Their offense took a major siesta during last week's Oakland/Seattle road trip - which saw them win one game out of six, and be outscored 25-14. They were shut out twice, and were one-hit and two-hit by A's and Mariners pitchers. Does Youk mean that much to the lineup? He's been out for a few games with a sore wrist, but here's hoping he's back in there tonight against the Orioles in Baltimore. Probably the lone highlight of the trip - Manny hit No. 499, so we're about to witness some history.

Fastballs will be popping tonight at Camden with Josh Beckett going against Daniel "Wild Thing" Cabrera.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Way Life Should Be

That's what the sign says on the highway when you officially enter into the state of Maine, which is where I find myself at the current moment, watching to see if the Celtics can seal the deal in Detroit and win their first road game of this (seemingly eternal) postseason.

Just to set the scene quickly: There's 2:17 left in the game, and KG's on the line with a chance to put the Celtics up by 10, which he does. Believe it or not, Boston has held as much as a 24-point lead over Detroit at various points tonight, and have thoroughly played their asses off. When Kendrick Perkins is juking people in the post and hitting turnaround jumpers, things is going good. We're now down to 1:38 left, Pistons with the ball, down by 10. I'm liking our chances. KG makes a huge shot to make it a 12-point lead and this one's over. The Celts are going to take home their first road win, baby! I can't believe how flat Detroit looked tonight. A huge, huge win for the C's, especially in terms of confidence after going 0-6 on the road in the first two rounds. Final score in this one, and it's a certifiable stunner: Celtics 94, Pistons 80. KG's the player of the game with 22 points, 13 boards and six assists.

By the way, I'm liking the Mike Breen/Jeff Van Gundy/Mark Jackson trio on ESPN. The mark to me of a good journalist - be it a columnist or a broadcaster - is if he teaches you something new every now and then. Van Gundy and Jackson explain things well, and Breen's a very good pilot. Or maybe I'm just so used to hearing Joe Morgan that anybody sounds good.

(That, my friends is one hell of a transition to baseball and the Red Sox...)

The Sox, meanwhile, are about to lose their second straight game to the A's in Oakland, and this one was ugly. They got one hit against Justin Duscherer and Huston Street and lose 3-0. Three runs in two games to a team that's just not very good.

But who cares about the A's? There's another Sox-Yankees-David Ortiz saga brewing that is just as laughable as the Curse of the Shirt. Evidently, Big Papi has signed up with MLB and State Farm to do a promotion during the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, where Ortiz will "call his shot" by pointing to the stands and trying to hit a home run there. The Yankees - specifically jackass extraordinaire Randy Levine - have expressed their discomfort in having the guy who singlehandedly caused the greatest choke job in sports history play such a prominent role in the ceremonies. Not very gracious if you ask me, SINCE WE'RE THE ONES WHO F'ING GAVE YOU BABE RUTH IN THE FIRST PLACE. Ass. The Yanks' "leadership" team is starting to bear a resemblance to Arlen Specter. A joke, a disgrace, and far too consumed with idiotic matters when your main interest (your team/your country) is circling the drain. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If MLB caves, they should be ashamed.

Hey, did I mention the Celts won? On the road? Game 4 Monday night in Motown.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Justin Case

Man, the Sox' pitching depth is truly showing after the last couple of days, eh? Last night, Justin Masterson (right) made another spot start and once again pitched very well. Even better, the bullpen didn't give it up this time and the kid gets his first MLB victory. Methinks young Mr. Masterson might be our 7th-8th inning answer before too long. Sox win 2-1, and tonight we get to see if Bartolo Colon can give us anything.

Oh yeah - there was another game going on in town last night. The Celtics opened up against Detroit, and if you didn't know better you would have sworn the Pistons had just finished up a grueling 7-game series. The Celts had the fresh legs and Detroit looked old. Garnett and Rondo were the offensive stars and Ray Allen continued to shoot like a blind man. In the end, C's win 88-79. Game 2 is tomorrow night.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Embarrasment of Riches

You know, we all need to exhale every now and then and realize just how good we have it with the current Boston sports scene. On a seemingly mundane Monday night - with the Red Sox in action against the Triple-A Royals and the Celtics across town preparing for tomorrow's night's Eastern Conference Finals opener against Detroit - wouldn't you know Jon Lester and Jason Varitek would make a little history.

Lester became the second Sox pitcher in 2 years to throw a no-hitter, blanking the hapless Royals 7-0. It was the first no-no by a Sox southpaw in 52 years, and followed Clay Buchholz' masterpiece last Labor Day against the Orioles. It was also the fourth no-hitter Varitek has caught in his career, which sets a new MLB record. Tek has now caught no-hitters thrown by Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Buchholz and Lester. Not too shabby.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are getting ready for another brutal series after beating LeBron James and the Cavaliers yesterday in another Game 7 at the Garden. It was a great game, with Paul Pierce and LeBron both submitting heroic performances. While it wasn't pretty, the bottom line is the Celts are still alive. Anything can happen against the Pistons. As for the Cavaliers and their young superstar, you've gained my eternal respect, LBJ. You're a treat to watch play the game, and your postgame comments after a tough loss - actually, your demeanor during the whole series - was classy. Remember in Game 3 when Pierce and KG went crashing into LeBron's mom, and he started yelling at his mom to sit down? The whole arena was rapidly turning on Pierce for his hard foul on LeBron, and LeBron just went over to Pierce, patted him on the shoulder and made everything cool. Every set of eyeballs in the stadium saw this gesture, and it completely defused what could have quickly become a hostile sitchy-ayshun.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Spygate-Free Zone

After getting rained out last night, the Sox and the Brewers will play two today, with Game 1 starting at around 4 and Game 2 at 8:30. Gonna be a long evening of baseball, which is always a good thing. There's also a big playoff basketball game at the Garden tomorrow, but unfortunately it's another Game 7 as LeBron and the Cavaliers once again beat the C's in Cleveland last night.

Some quick thoughts on all the sports news swirling around:

- The biggest subject in the NBA playoffs so far is the incredible home-court advantage that teams have had. Going into last night, I think visiting teams were 1-18 or something like that, and for the Celts that trend continued. The Lakers, playing in Salt Lake City, bucked the trend and beat the Jazz to advance to the West finals. Why the big discrepancy? It's hard to ignore the difference in the calls the refs make depending on which arena they're in. The Cavs last night got the better of the late calls - one a goaltending that should have been whistled; another the Pierce/LeBron collision where James got the call. In all, Cleveland went to the line 25 times to the Celts' 13, and that's a pattern that has been pretty consistent so far in the playoffs. It would be interesting to see if David Stern's guys are looking into this, because it's starting to become patently obvious.

- Before the day off Thursday and the rainout last night, the Sox were struggling, having lost 3 of 4 in Minnesota and both games in Baltimore. The problem has clearly been the bullpen, with even Okajima looking mortal so far this year. He's been especially piss-poor with inherited runners, though to give him some slack, he's also come into some hellish situations. Either way, you can bet Theo's trying to figure out a way to reinforce the 'pen because the trend can't continue. The first game today is on Fox at 4:00 with Daisuke Matsuzaka (6-0, 2.45) going against Jeff Suppan (2-2, 4.63). Nightcap on NESN at 8:30 has Tim Wakefield (3-2, 4.25) vs. Dave Bush (1-4, 6.06).

- Everyone knows the NBA is a star league. You need the one guy who can absolutely take over a game for stretches of time. Kobe in LA. LeBron in Cleveland. Chris Paul in New Orleans. Based on what you've seen so far in the playoffs, is KG one of those kinds of guys? He's clearly been our best, most consistent players, but has he shown spurts of dominance? I say no, only because he just hasn't established his presence down low. It's easy to see why he might be conflicted between the inside and outside game, though - he's got an unreal touch for a 7-footer.

- Wally Sczerbiak recently had a son and named him Maximus Jack Sczerbiak. Just something I thought you might want to know.

- How about the Yankees' abrupt turn to mediocrity? Their pitching has been positively atrocious, A-Rod's been out with an injury, and ol' Hank Steinbrenner is starting to voice his frustratoins publicly. It will add some salt to the wound when Johan Santana faces them today, the guy they could have gotten for the disappointing Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

- Had to love the Manny high-five play in Baltimore. If you haven't seen it, the Orioles have guys on first and second with one out. Manny tracks down a deep fly to left, and runs up the wall in the process. At the top, he briefly slaps hands with a Red Sox fan, then comes down and fires the ball back in and they double the guy off first. Incredible.">.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Road Worriers

Before I get to the Spygate crap happening today, I must expend a few words on the Celtics - whose frustrating loss last night in Cleveland tied the second-round series up at 2 games apiece.

I do not profess in any way to be a basketball junkie, nor would I describe myself as having one iota of intelligence regarding hoops strategy, but I did watch the C's all year long and I stayed in a Holiday Inn last night. And one thing that stands out like a sore thumb is that the Celtics aren't sticking with the blueprint that helped them make NBA history during the regular season.

Personally, I think the additions of P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell - particularly Cassell - have had a negative effect on the team. Doc Rivers had to force-feed them into their roles on the fly, and it feels like he's giving them way too much leeway in the postseason. We're not seeing Leon Powe, Eddie House, Big Baby or Tony Allen much, and unless Powe is injured, the fact that we didn't see him down the stretch last night is a horrible coaching call on Doc Rivers' part.

Looking strictly at the Big Three, Pierce and Ray Allen have been disappointing, and KG - while he's carried the team in the playoffs - seems out of his element as well, taking way too many long-range jumpers and hanging out around the perimeter. I'll give Pierce somewhat of a break because he's the one chasing LeBron around all night - and that has to be exhausting - but he needs to do more on the offensive end. And Allen? He showed his scoring touch a bit last night, but he's been getting torched on the opposite end by - UGH - Wally Sczerbiak. Watching ex-Celtics Joe Johnson, Delonte West, and Wally light it up the last few weeks has been about as fun as getting a paper cut.

In a way, winning the 66 games and making history is working against this team. They weren't pressured at all during the year, didn't have to play in hostile arenas, and their unmitigated success has made their fans set the bar extremely high for this postseason. We'll see what happens going forward, but this much is clear, even to the ignorant observer that I am. If this keeps up, and they're lucky enough to advance to play Detroit, they're going to be Motor City roadkill.


Just a brief note on the Sox - they lost again last night in Minnesota as Clay Buccholz got roughed up. Manny hit No. 498, and Youkilis - arguably the hottest hitter in the American League right now - took a night off. The boys are in Baltimore tonight for a quick two-gamer, with Josh Beckett going against Jeremy Guthrie.


And finally, Spygate. You know my opinion on this whole charade, which several media outlets - and individual writers - have been hellbent on prolonging. Matt Walsh had his much ballyhooed (good word) meeting with NFL commish Roger Goodell this morning, and as expected, there were no big "gotcha's." The league actually set up a couple of flat-screen TV's to show the videos Walsh handed over, and it was pretty much what Fox' Jay Glazer showed on the air back when - offensive and defensive coaches windmilling their arms in nonsensical fashion. Must have been riveting TV. There was also some up-close footage of some of the San Diego Chargers' cheerleaders, which greatly pleases me - though I'm not sure if the league opted to show that on the TV's. Walsh also told Goodell that a Pats player on injured reserve back in 2001 was practicing with the team (a no-no), and that he assisted some players and coaches in scalping Super Bowl tickets. That's about it. Walsh is now meeting with Senator Sphincter, who will also hold his own little press conference immediately thereafter. Can't wait to hear what this blowhard has to say. Again, I advocate for the impeachment process to start now.

One last note - if you find yourself having a bad day over the next week or so, just remember this - your name could be John Tomase. He's the Herald beat writer who broke the Rams' walkthrough tape story by citing a single, unnamed source. Tomase may be looking for work elsewhere pretty soon.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mike Fish Wants So Desperately to Be Our Generation's Woodward and Bernstein

So as you probably know by now, word leaked out this week about the contents of Matt Walsh's videotape collection, and as many people suspected there was no smoking gun - i.e., a tape of the Rams' walk-through before SB 36. Thankfully, the Spygate stuff can now end.

Or can it? If it's up to ESPN, Mike Fish, Gregg Easterbrook, Arlen Sphincter, and Walsh's attorney, they're going to do everything in their power to keep the story alive. You want proof, you say? The second headline on right now says 'Tapes show Patriots also stole offensive signals' - written by, shockah of shockahs, Mr. Douche, ah, Fish. That was preceded by another story by Fish this morning with the headline 'NFL might be interested in certain aspects of tapes'. I mean, are you shitting me? ESPN has slowly deteriorated over the last few years, but this is just irresponsible, biased reporting. ESPN's hatred for Belichick and the Patriots' dynasty is pretty obvious, which is shameful.

As for the demented Senator from Pennsylvania - big Eagles fan they tell me - he felt he was important enough to issue a statement today on the Walsh tapes, saying 'let's not rush to judgment here' and claiming the NFL is already putting a 'nothing new' spin on Walsh's uneventful evidence. Congress actually ought to launch an investigation into Sphincter's work routine, because he's obviously not spending much time on the things that really matter. The evidence against this clown is overwhelming. Yes, he's a big Eagles fan, and of course, they all suck. It also just so happens that the NFL is in the midst of a lawsuit against Comcast Cable, one of Sphincter's largest political contributors. And I just read today that Sphincter's actually got a book out - probably called "Me and My Agenda" - that has sold, like, five copies. Specter is a disgrace to his office and to his constituents. He should be impeached, and then tarred and feathered immediately thereafter.

The other fraud in all of this is John Tomase, who broke the story about the Rams tape on the morning of the Super Bowl, and his employer, the Boston Herald. For months after Tomase's initial story, the Herald and a bevy of writers went out of their way to bash Belichick, Kraft and the Pats at every turn. It really was a sharp turn into overly negative coverage, and was very distinguishable from the Globe's more measured approach. Again, I understand the Herald is also a tabloid, but I believe they went over the line.

And after all the B.S., the Patriots will be exonerated but their reputation will wrongfully take a hit. Tomase's ill-timed, fraudulent story took the steam out of what should have been a historic Super Sunday, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he or the paper could face some type of legal action. I'd love to know what Kraft and his lawyers are thinking of doing. I'd sue the whole lot of them for slander. Make Tomase take the stand and identify the "source" that he was so confident in.

Oh, and one last note on the biased media coverage, this one actually made by Pete Sheppard on WEEI this afternoon. If it was a Patriots star player who was part of a shooting investigation that killed someone and injured a child, and it was proven that his gun was used in the killing, would he be getting the same pass Marvin Harrison is right now? Exactly.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Celtics-Cavs, Game 1

It's been like watching a Dice-K pitching performance, this tractor-pull of a playoff game between the Celts and the LeBrons. We're currently in the 4th quarter, with just over 4 minutes left, and the Celts are leading by a slim 3 points. It has truly been ugly, and when you consider that the Cavs are this close despite LeBron having only 4 points, it's a little scary. Mr. James could go off at any moment.

For the Celts, Garnett has been a one-man show, and Allen and Pierce have mostly been no-shows. Rondo has also played a good game so far. With 3 minutes now left, Pierce and Allen need to contribute down the stretch. Gibson just hit a three for Cleveland and we're all knotted up at 68. Pierce and Allen still can't get anything to drop. Allen looks, well, old.

The Cavs take the lead briefly, but KG nails a long-range jumper to tie it at 70. For a big man, Garnett's shooting range is pretty damn impressive. Uh-oh. LeBron's driving and slicing, and that big Russian dude - Z - is there to gobble up any rebounds. Celts now lead 74-72, and James Posey - who's been superglued to LeBron all night - hits two free throws to make it 76-72. Eight and a half seconds left, and let's hope we don't have a Detroit clock moment. And it's over. C's win. It wasn't pretty, which all the idiots on sports talk radio tomorrow will remind us, but they got it done. To be honest, this was the game I was worried about after the big win over the Hawks. Now the Celts can re-load and Pierce and Allen can get their shit together and take some of the load off KG. By the way, Allen scored zero points tonight, the first time he's been shut out since his rookie season in 1996. LeBron finished with 12 points on 2 for 18 shooting. Just a weird night all around.

Word has it some other pro sports team from Boston was also playing tonight. The Sox - on a quietly efficient little winning run here - beat the Tigers 5-0 behind Tim Wakefield. Wake's a notoriously quick worker when he's in a groove - tonight's game lasted only 2 hours, 10 minutes, or roughly the same time it takes a wicked fast Kenyan to win the Boston Marathon. It's hard to believe that the Tigers - who made a big splash by getting both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis - are this bad. I'm liking how the Sox are looking - they're deep. Oh yeah - almost forgot - Papi and Manny both hit bombs tonight, back to back in the seventh inning. Manny's at 497 and counting.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Worth the Trip

What a difference a week makes. Last Friday night, I was in the stands at Tropicana Field watching the lifeless, flu-ridden Red Sox lose in extra innings on their way to being swept for the weekend. Rays starters Edwin Jackson and James Shields looked like the modern-day version of Koufax and Drysdale. Our hitters looked like they were standing at the plate in cement boots. Now the Rays are in Boston, the Sox' hitters have come to life, and the Sox are on the verge of returning the favor with a three-game sweep of their own. It's always fun to watch the Sox play on the road, so I thought I'd share a few observations on my Trip to the Trop, which overall was an enjoyable experience.

The stadium itself sits like a cratered flying saucer in the middle a working-class neighborhood. When we pulled into the parking lot, I immediately thought I was in Foxborough. Tailgating going on in every direction (imagine one big central lot at Fenway) with tons of Patriots and Red Sox jerseys walking around, with "Brady" and "Schilling" easily the most popular.

We were pleasantly shocked as we were waved into the lot and told we could park for free. Evidently, when you go to the game with 4 or more people in your car, you get to park for free. Imagine that. We talked briefly with Al the Security Guy, whose badge told us he hailed from Needham, Mass. He gave us a quick lowdown on navigating the building, and also told us about a promotion after the game involving women, roller derby, and free beer. There are lots of Al's from Needhams working at the Trop. It's almost like it's become the retirement job to get, replacing starter-sitting-in-a-golf-cart at the nearby country club.

At the main entrance, the Rays have images of young stars like Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir painted on the outside of the building, and the starting lineups are posted on a big board. Then you enter the mall. The whole ground floor of the Trop is ringed with shops and food stands, with little staircases on the right-hand side leading up to the field. There are stores specifically dedicated to Red Sox and Yankee gear. Walking up the ramp wasn't quite the same as seeing the Fenway green for the first time, but it's still always a cool feeling seeing a field for the first time. Even if it's an indoor abomination like this one.

The first thing I looked at when I walked in was the crazy structure that hangs from the ceiling of this bizarro building, the one with all the ladders and catwalks that has swallowed many a David Ortiz moonshot.Sure enough, Dustin Pedroia hit a ball up there in the first inning that never came down.

We had arrived early for the game, so we had some time to poke around the mall and observe. Always a nice plus if you can map out a food/beverage game plan for the whole night. We checked out a stand offering Corona, but with no limes. Egregious. We found the all-important sausage stand, and eventually the best beer bargain at the Trop, a 24-ouncer of Bud or Bud Light for $8. We checked out a souvenir store that carried only Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs gear. One fashion trend we noticed was that a lot of Rays fans like to buy the team jersey and put their first name on the back. This, too, is egregious. I always kid my wife that Maine is the personalized license plate capital of the world; the Trop is the personalized jersey capital of the world.

It being a Friday night and all, there was plenty of pre-game drunkenness. Some guy in a black satin shirt, jeans, black cowboy boots and a 70's haircut/mustache combo kept prancing in front of a largely Red Sox section during the game, belittling the Sox any chance he got. It became a pretty funny schtick as the night wore on.

The Red Sox scored first and the place erupted in cheers. I've always wondered if the pro-Sox crowds at the Trop and Camden Yards are as loud as they sound on TV and the answer - at least in St. Pete - is a resounding yes. I was watching some of the Rays players on the field, checking for any body language signs that they were disappointed in the cheers. They didn't show it, but the Saturday newspapers down there had some comments wondering why Rays fans don't show up.

They could be showing up in droves if the Rays keep playing well and the team can figure out how to get a sparkling new waterfront ballpark built. Tampa has a great young nucleus of players in Crawford, Evan Longoria, one of the Upton brothers (too lazy to look it up), Kazmir, Jackson, and Shields. They have the talent to finish at least third in the AL East, and they will most definitely be a royal pain in the ass for the Sox and Yankees all year. And if things really go right, they could be playing in a gorgeous new park on the water.

Another retiree who found work at the Trop - John from Watertown - was standing beside a table in the mall promoting plans for the Rays' new ballpark. All I can say is, yes please. Get it done. I tried taking a picture of the park, which hopefully comes through okay.

As for the game, it was tied up at 4-4 heading into the ninth and some ground rules were laid for extra innings. I was with my father-in-law, wife, and my wife's sister, and the girls had pretty much been troopers in coming along in the first place. They gave us one extra inning, and when it was still tied after 10, we left. Egregious, I know. But I justified it in my mind by envisioning the women's roller derby beer extravaganza. We were about halfway home when we heard David Ortiz ground into a killer double play, and then the Rays cooked up a run in the next inning to win it 5-4.

All things considered, while Fenway and the Trop are completely different animals, it was a cool experience. I like the direction the Rays are headed in - with new management, a good manager, and a very talented crew of young players. I wish they played in the National League, because they make you want to root for them.

Win or Go Home

That's the deal for KG and the Celtics, who are playing the Hawks in a shocking Game 7 today at the Gahden. Atlanta has won all three games in their frenzied arena, and the Celts now need to win all 4 in their gym. I guess home court is pretty important.

Boston's inability to put the final nail in the coffin on the road has been both frustrating and concerning at the same time. I mean, this is a 37-win Atlanta team who snuck its way into the playoffs. What's gonna happen when the C's are playing at Detroit? But credit to the Hawks, whose athleticism is what's been getting in the way of that final nail. Josh Smith, Joe Johnson (thanks Ricky P), and Al Horford are incredible talents. When he's on, Mike Bibby scares you. Josh Childress showed some things in Game 6. They've got a team on the rise.

In my humble opinion, and you may think I'm nuts, I think this particular Boston team really needed to go through some adversity like this as a big gelling, maturity step. I know that sounds like psycho-babble, but if you think about it, this team - and all of its new personalities - was never truly tested during the regular season as they cruised to the best record in the league and made history for the biggest one-year turnaround. Now they've put themselves in a position to erase a season's worth of good with one more loss. I think they win, and learn some valuable things about themselves as they head into a second-round matchup against Cleveland.

Oh, and note to Doc: let Rajon play dammit. Even though his airball three at the end Friday night was painful, the kid shouldn't sit in favor of Cassell.

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