Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Awkward Man-Hug Time

Dude, Papi's got designer frigging goggles on! The Red Sox hung on tonight to beat the Indians 5-4 at Fenway, and ensure themselves a spot in the postseason dance. Dustin Pedroia - far and away the team MVP in '08 - just said it best on TV. We've got a chance to defend our title.

This one most definitely was not easy. The Sox were going up against shoo-in AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, and the lead went back and forth before the Sox tied it at 4 and then took the lead for good in the fifth inning. They escaped a couple of bases-loaded jams, and then Jonathan Papelbon came in and was throwing peas to get four outs and clinch the playoff spot.

It's now the fifth time in six years that the Sox are going to the playoffs, and while there's nothing quite like your first one, this doesn't get old at all. We get to see Papelbon dancing like a freak and spraying champagne, and Papi being interviewed by NESN's ultra-hot Heidi Watney who's soaked to the bone. What's not to like?

The players are on the field right now - about 10:15 Boston time - and for some unknown reason Papelbon is pulling up all the bases and giving them to random fans. Just when you think you've seen it all - I'm fairly certain we won't see Pap sporting his headgear from last year (above).

One last thing: This is sweet because of everything this team has been through. No Curt Schilling. Big Papi's wrist injury. The whole Manny saga. Losing J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell for long periods of time. Hats off to Terry Francona and the coaching staff for keeping this machine running. October baseball, baby.

(Oh, and it just so happens that the Sox' win eliminates the Yankees from postseason play for the first time in 13 years. Double sweet.)

Monday, September 22, 2008


We begin first today by saluting one of our favorite household contraptions, ye remote control. With so much sporting activity going on yesterday - including the Sox vs. Jays, Pats vs. Dolphins, and U.S. against Europe in Ryder Cup golf - most of these gizmos got major workouts yesterday.

If we rewind the clock to just before noon on Sunday, and we looked at all three of these events and tried to assess who had the best chances for victory, a lot of New Englanders would have chosen: 1. Pats, 2. Red Sox, and 3. U.S. golfers. Well, two out of three came through, and surprisingly it was the Patriots who stumbled.

What an absolute horror show at Gillette Stadium yesterday, where most people turned out to see the Pats go 3-0 heading into the bye week but instead sat dumbfounded as Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown pretty much did whatever he pleased to a stunned Patriots defense. As the story has it this morning, Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano called quarterbacks coach David Lee up to the front of the plane on the team's journey home last week after getting stuffed by Arizona, and said 'let's do something completely different for New England.' Different turned out to be taking a couple of pages from the Arkansas Razorback playbook - where Lee coached last year. Essentially, Miami had Brown line up as QB on several plays, and basically let him either run the ball or pass off of direct snaps. Fool me once, okay. Fool me twice, shame on me. But fool me FIVE times?

Incredibly, Brown ran for four scores and passed for another as the Dolphins decimated the Patriots on their home-field, in front of their new Hall of Fame inductees no less - to the tune of a 38-13 shellacking. No one's quite sure why Bill Belichick and his coaches couldn't figure out a way to stop the madness, perhaps best illustrated by Richard Seymour's shocking admission after the game that the defense "was running around like chickens with our heads cut off." What we do know is that the team got blown out on both sides of the ball, and coach Bill has some serious 'splainin' to do today. We'll see how tough the WEEI Big Show guys are on him, as opposed to the tongue-bathing they give him each week.

Other aspects of the game worthy of a mention:

- Chadwick Pennington III deserves a tip of the cap today. The man is regarded as an accurate if generally averagequarterback, but he got his job done yesterday when he had to. And yeah, he was accurate alright, going 17-for-20 for 226 yards.

- So too, begrudgingly, does Dolphins LB Joey Porter. He yapped it up all week and he backed it up on the field.

- Quietly, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski has emerged as a sure-fire thing.

- Randy Moss looked pretty disinterested all day, failing to go all-out for a couple of balls, and from some reports, hanging out on the bench all by his lonesome. I mentioned in this space when Brady went down that Moss' demeanor would be a key thing to watch. I'm not alarmed. Yet.

- Looking around the league, it seems pretty apparent that the Dallas Cowboys - barring major injuries - should be playing in Tampa next February. As to who they'll be playing, it's wide open in the AFC. Both the Pats and Colts (who lost to the Jaguars yesterday) aren't what they used to be, and the unbeatens include Tennessee, Buffalo and Denver.

The Red Sox moved ever closer to clinching a playoff spot with a 3-0 rocking-chair win over the Jays in Toronto. Dice-K was magnificent in upping his record to 18-2 and Canada homeboy Jason Bay provided the offense with a homer. The AL East division is still up for grabs, with the Rays holding a 1.5 game lead over the Sox going into tonight's games. Rays are playing the pesky Orioles, while the Sox will be hosting a four-game series against Cleveland.

Is there anything better than golf in HD? Despite the perpetually crappy play of Phil Mickelson, the U.S. won the Cup for the first time since 1999, and they did it rather easily, beating the Euros 16.5 to 11.5. The Ryder Cup is like nothing else in golf because you're playing for a team, and the rooting interests are fierce. You could hear cheering when any Euro missed a key putt, which must make them crazy even though it's all in the name of fun. Speaking of fun, how about that Boo Weekley character, who was playing in his very first Cup. The clip of him doing the Happy Gilmore riding the horse thing was priceless.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Green" House Effect

As the (financial) world continues to burn, it's always nice to come back to the world of sports, aka the toy department of life. And as usual, there are no shortage of subjects to cover.

I'll start with a rite of passage for sporting champs, which is the yearly visit to the White House. The Celtics got to head to Washington yesterday for the first time since 1986, as the team met President Bush, and presented him with a team jersey (#43, of course), an autographed basketball, and, in a classy move, a $100,000 donation to Hurrican Ike victims. You could tell the team enjoyed it, and you have to think Bush enjoys this stuff as well, especially after yet another tough, tough week in his presidency. Watching some of the coverage on the local news, it was hard not to think of Red Auerbach. The team's visit also prompted this cool story from the Herald's Mark Murphy, who recounts the 1963 team's visit to the Oval Office to meet with JFK.

There's a lot going on this weekend. College and pro pigskin, pennant races all around, and the Ryder Cup - golf's biennial Super Bowl between American and European golfers. I was lucky enough to attend the 1995 matches at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York, and was literally standing 10 feet from Corey Pavin when he made one of hthe most thrilling chip shots in golf history. I still have not heard a crowd roar quite like that one that day. For those of you who may scoff at this event, if you've been to one, you understand the passion that flows on both sides.

Okay, enough golf talk. The Sox won a big game in Toronto last night, with Sean Casey providing the clutch hit late. This one had you a bit worried. The Sox came in after another tough series with the Rays, and while the Jays had fireballer A.J. Burnett going, we had Paul Byrd, who I think has faced the Jays in 5 of his 7 Sox starts. Never a good thing. The Sox ended up winning 4-3, and one of the interesting nuggets in today's Globe - Byrd is always a great quote - was that on Thursday, an off-day spent in Toronto, Jason Varitek put on some gear, got Byrd from his hotel room, and walked through the main lobby to a nearby park to throw the ball around. How cool is that? Look for Dan Shaughnessy to comment soon, saying 'can you imagine this happening on Boston Common.' Yeah, you could say Dan's pretty predictable. Anyway, a very nice one-run win on the road.

Entering today's games, here's the situation: the Sox' magic number is 2, and they can clinch a playoff spot as soon as tonight with a win, a Yanks' loss and either a White Sox or Twins loss. They're currently 1.5 games behind the Rays, who continue to amaze, but I still think the division is doable and I would think that's what everyone wants. Let's get home-field advantage. Tonight's matchup is a good one, with Roy Halladay going against Jon Lester.

As for the local football team, they're going up against the inept Miami Dolphins on Sunday in Foxborough and most everyone - except Dolphins LB Joey Porter - is predicting a rather large win. Porter, God love him, opened his yap once again this week, demeaning Matt Cassel and saying 'it shouldn't be too difficult for us' without Tom Brady. You can bet everyone on the Pats' roster is aware of those comments. The big weak spot on this Miami team looks to be its secondary, which was absolutely torched last week by Kurt Warner and his Arizona Cardinals' receivers. That being said, it will be interesting to see if Josh McDaniels lets Cassel throw a little deeper, and maybe Randy Moss gets a little more involved. Final score? I'm thinking something like 27-10 or in that area. Lots of folks are saying the Pats will put up 30+, and they very well may, but the Dolphins do still have two good RB's in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and ours - specifically LaMont Jordan and Laurence Maroney - are hurting a little bit. And Cassel is still learning. Next week's a bye week for the Pats so it would be awfully damn gratifying to go into it at 3-0. This would also be the 22nd straight regular-season victory for New England.

One last night going back to baseball. Yes, I hate them. I hate really everything about them. But you have to respect the Yankees and what they've done through the years, and as they get ready to close down Yankee Stadium, you owe it to yourself as a sports fan to read this week's Sports Illustrated cover story on the old ballpark, written masterfully by Tom Verducci. The passage about President Bush throwing the first pitch not long after the September 2001 terrorist attacks - one of my all-time goosebump memories - will get you emotional all over again. Just read it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Border War Takes on New Look

For my money, this is the best time of the year for sports fans. You've got baseball revving up for the playoffs, college football roaring out of the gates, and NFL football back on the weekly agenda. And the weather's still pretty nice to boot.

Before I get into some thoughts on the Sox and Pats, had to share this from ESPN.com. The site asks readers to list the 50 things that annoy them the most, and the featured list on the main page this morning reads like this: 1. The Red Sox, 2. Bill Belichick, 3. The USC Trojans, and 4. the BCS. The poster's handle? "YanksJetsKnicks4Life." How sweet is that? And really - can you blame them? The Yankees have been in free-fall for a month now, and are currently in fourth place in the AL East. The Knicks are a perpetual train wreck. And the Jets - coming off a crappy 4-12 season last year - made some bold moves in the offseason to try to make themselves more competitive. All of which makes me salivate at the prospect of Matt Cassel & Co. giving YanksJetsKnicks4Life and his slovenly friends the ultimate middle finger salute tomorrow.

So let's start there. Tom Brady isn't walking out of that tunnel tomorrow, and as the initial shock has subsided, I think more and more Pats fans are intrigued at what this still-talented team can do. They do have the easiest schedule in the league this year, and if you think back to 2001-02, when Jets LB Mo Lewis (little irony there, no?) permanently altered this franchise for the better, remember what we called Brady back then? A game manager. His typical line each week was maybe 15 for 20, 185 yards, no picks. Fast forward to 2008, and that's really all Matt Cassel has to do. And his team - on both sides of the ball - is more talented than it was back then. You can argue about the defense maybe, but the point remains. We don't need Cassel to be Brady-like. I say this team goes 11-5, and then all bets are off in the playoffs.

As for the game tomorrow, it's going to be an incredibly intense atmosphere. You've got the Mangini-BB angle, Spygate anniversary, Brett Favre's first game in front of the home crowd, etc. Jets fans are discounting the Pats and smelling blood, which is exactly the type of situation the Pats thrive on. Call me a homer, but I'm predicting a 24-17 victory, with a Favre interception being returned for a TD. The Pats' D-line comes up big.

Turning to the boys of summer/fall, the Sox endured a couple of tough losses at Fenway this week to the amazing Rays, and currently sit 2 games behind the division leaders. The Sox had to play through a mini-monsoon last night with the red-hot Blue Jays because they've already got a day-night twinbill scheduled for today due to an early-season rainout. It turned out to be a good thing they played last night, as Tim Wakefield turned in a great performance and we didn't have to use the bullpen. So we've got lots of fresh arms ready for today's marathon. First game is at 12:30 with A.J. Burnett going against Paul Byrd, and the second game has Bartolo Colon going against Jesse Litsch tonight at 7.

It will be interesting to see if the Sox go full-throttle to try to win the AL East, or if they'll be relatively content to take the wild-card route, where they have a commanding lead. Me personally? I don't want to have to travel out to LA to play the Angels, so let's go for it.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Monday, September 08, 2008

A Gloomy Monday

As the free world knows by now, it's official. Tom Brady is done for 2008 and will require surgery on his left knee. We don't know any specifics about the injury yet, but speculation centers on a torn ACL and possibly even more damage. The news came a little after 3 p.m. from Foxborough, and while we had all steeled ourselves for it, it still takes the wind out of your sails.

I don't know about you, but my emotions are all over the board today. I'm sad that our season is over before it begins. I feel bad for Brady, because you know he's the hardest worker on the team, and he won't get a chance to add to his ridiculous resume and avenge that lame Super Bowl loss in February. I actually feel some sympathy for Bernard Pollard, who - right or wrong - will go down in history as one of the biggest New England villains of all time. I feel a sense of 'what if?' As in, what if Sammy Morris had finished off his block of Pollard, or what if Kevin Faulk - a superb blitz picker-upper - hadn't been suspended for the first game because he got caught with some mary jane at a L'il Wayne concert. In all likelihood, he would have been in the backfield for that play and maybe things turn out differently. I've got some anger inside - mostly because I've made the mistake today of reading some comments on the web o'sphere, many of which are cheering this latest development. And then I catch myself, realizing that I've always rooted for injuries to befall Yankees, and for scorching line drives to be hit into the good seats at Yankee Stadium. And finally, I guess the only piece of optimism I can offer - and this is assuming Brady makes a full recovery - is that maybe he'll be hungrier than ever to win more Vince Lombardi trophies and get the Pats' name back into the same breath as the great Steelers, Cowboys, and 49er teams. I guess another positive is that this happened in Game 1 and not Game 14 or in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLIII.

We've been pretty damn lucky around here, and every now and then it takes a horrible thing like this to make us realize it. Ah, the fragility of it all.

In the meantime, we throw our support around Matt Cassel and, oh yeah, the Sox.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

What's the Worst Thing That Could Happen?

Has an opening-season win on a gorgeous, sun-splashed day ever felt so hollow? Our sports nightmare was realized this afternoon in Foxborough, when Patriots QB Tom Brady suffered a potential season-ending knee injury. As a guy who's had his fair share of knee troubles, I don't think it's going to be good news. In fact, I'm shocked they let Brady walk off the field on his own power after the hit, never mind down a flight of stairs to the locker room.

The play itself was actually less of a hit than it was a kind of roll, or a lunge. Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard was picked up nicely on a blitz by Pats RB Sammy Morris, but his forward momentum carried him into Brady, who was just releasing the ball and had his left leg in a straight-up, vulnerable position. At the point of contact, Brady's upper leg went one way and his lower leg went the other. When he was writhing in pain on the ground, I had that same sinking feeling in my stomach that you get when a state trooper throws his flashing blues on behind you, and then passes you in pursuit of another driver. Now, with Brady no doubt holed up in complete secrecy in some medical institution in the Boston area tonight, the Pats shot at another dream season is most likely over before it really got started. Brady will have an MRI tomorrow and then we'll know more. (By the way, I love how the different sports websites throughout the day had little links saying 'Hear what Belichick has to say about Brady's injury.' No need to click - he had nothing to say about it. Just like, um, always.) If he's done, it will be interesting to see if the Pats target a veteran QB or stick with Matt Cassel.

It was a scenario made all the more surreal because we spent the whole pre-season around here talking about how bad our backup QBs are, and can you imagine if anything happened to Brady? Just a week ago, people were up in arms that Cassel had made the team after a crappy training camp. But lo and behold, you gotta give Cassel credit. For all the grief he took in the past week, his performance - not great, but pretty darn good considering - was inspiring and you genuinely felt good for the guy. The highlight was easily the 51-yard slant pass he made to Randy Moss when the Pats were stuck deep in their own zone. He also hit Moss later for a TD, and when he wasn't throwing it, he was relying on RB's Laurence Maroney and Morris to chew up some yardage. The Maroney/Morris team was impressive all day. And hats off, too, to the defense. They had a pretty solid showing all around, the secondary made some nice plays, and the goal line stand at the end to preserve the win brought back memories. Still, we realize that it was the lowly Chiefs, and oh yeah, we lost our Hall of Fame quarterback. Final score: Pats 17, Chiefs 10.

More on football as the week goes on, but let's get back to baseball for a second. If you haven't noticed, the front-running Rays are in the process of coughing up a big furball, and the Sox are the benefactors. One week ago, the Rays had a comfortable 5-1/2 game lead on the Sox, and our thoughts were mostly on winning the wild card. But then the Sox got hot against some pretty piss-poor teams, and the Rays had to contend with the Yankees (remember, A-Rod's always on when the games matter less) and the feisty Blue Jays. As we sit here tonight, with a much-awaited series with Tampa on tap at Fenway starting tomorrow night, the lead has been shaved down to 1-1/2 games. If all goes well, we could be in first place come Wednesday morning. Series matchups: Jon Lester vs. Edwin Jackson tomorrow night, Dice-K vs. Scott Kazmir Tuesday, and Josh Beckett vs. Andy Sonnanstine Wednesday.

(UPDATE, 9:58 p.m. - both Yahoo's Michael Silver and WEEI.com's Ron Borges are reporting that Brady is indeed done for the year with a torn ACL. Unbelievable. Pats fans - be prepared for an onslaught of 'karma' comments from the haters. Some reports are saying that the Pats will bring in Chris Simms tomorrow for a look-see. Cassel may keep the job for a while, but what happens if he goes down? If I hear the name Vinny Testaverde in the next few days, I will puke.)

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