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Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Tampa Bay Rays, 2008 AL East Champions

Last night when the Tampa Bay Rays lost to the Detroit Tigers, 6-4, Boston's slim AL East hopes spent a few more hours on life support. Unfortunately, between multiple rain delays, the Red Sox' B squad (94-66) got pummelled by the Yankees (88-72), 19-8, thereby ending any intrigue for the last two games.

Boston's expectations of coming back and somehow taking the division were illustrated by their decision to start David Pauley. No use in wasting one of the top end starters when the odds were stacked against the Red Sox.

About the only noteworthy positive thing to come out of the game for Boston was the continued hot streak of Jacoby Ellsbury. He was 4 for 5 with his ninth homer of the year and 50th stolen base. He got his average up to .280. Evan Longoria is the no-brainer choice for AL rookie of the year but Ellsbury will get some votes too after a rough middle of the year.

Kevin Youkilis also hit a homer, his 29th of the season. Who knows if he'll play much in the last two games (or if they happen since we're in the middle of a monsoon in New England) but it'd be nice to see Youk get 30 bombs.

Boston is the AL Wild Card and will travel to play the Angels in the Divisional series, starting either Wednesday or Thursday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lester is a stud; no homo!

The Red Sox' hopes of stealing the AL East out from under the Tampa Bay Rays lived for at least one more night as Boston (94-65), won its third straight against the Indians (79-80), 6-1 last night at Fenway.

Jon Lester (16-6) wrapped up his breakout regular season with one last solid start. It's almost guaranteed that the Red Sox will travel to Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs to face the Angels. If Beckett can be anything like he normally is in October, coupled with Lester and a decent start or two from Dice-K, I like this team's chances.

Lester went six innings last night, allowing one run on two hits with a walk and four strikeouts.

Jed Lowrie, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury led the offense-something you'll be reading for five years-with two hits apiece. Ellsbury continued his career-high 15 game hitting streak while each guy scored two runs. Youkilis even crushed his 28th homer of the season.

The New York Yankees come to Fenway for three basically meaningless games this weekend. It's pouring right now and rain is forecasted tomorrow as well so who knows what they'll do if they have to cancel?

Slowly but surely, everything is coming together for the 2008 Red Sox.

bidding farewell to Mr. Patriot, Troy Brown

By now it's almost cliche to lament the retirement of a player from one of your favorite teams by saying, "he was my favorite player!" Still, with the news that Troy Brown officially retired from the NFL yesterday, I can't help but think that they'll never be another like him.

A 15-year veteran wide receiver, that was drafted 198th overall (in the now obsolete 8th round) out of Marshall University was a classic overachiever. Brown played his entire career for the New England Patriots which is something pretty much unheard of these days. He'll go down in Patriots history as the franchise leader in receptions (557), second in yards (6366), the single-game catch leader (15) and a three-time Super Bowl champion among countless weighty accomplishments.

What makes Brown's departure so sad (even though it was completely expected) was that he was the rare star athlete with seemingly little to no ego. With the ridiculous amount of self-centered behavior and attention-seeking by numerous current NFL stars (particularly at wideout), Brown was the ultimate teammate and leader.

He even stepped in to play cornerback (along with receiver) in 2004-2006 when the Pats' defensive backfield resembled a morgue.

It's hard to pick a favorite memory of the Troy Brown era, he made the clutch, game-saving/winning play look routine. The 2001 AFC Championship game against the Steelers had a Brown trifecta: a blocked punt and lateral for a touchdown, a punt return for a score and a huge day receiving. The other foremost impression of Brown is one of his last plays: stripping the ball from the Chargers' Marlon McRee in the AFC playoffs two years ago after McRee intercepted it. New England recovered the ball and went on to defeat the heavily favored Bolts.

Troy Brown is obviously a shoe-in for the new Patriots hall-of-fame but it will be interesting to see if he makes it to Canton for the big Hall of Fame. Most likely not but that doesn't mean anything to Patriots fans. Troy Brown is one of the best players and men that we'll ever cheer on, end of discussion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

For the fifth time in six years, the Red Sox will play in October

Not to get all Bill Simmons on you (my friends and dad are the coolest!) but I thought the text I received from my buddy last night perfectly summed up the Sox' playoff clincher: "Ortiz out for two months, Manny shipped off, Beckett hurt and not himself, Drew lost on August 7, Lowell fucked for much of the year, no depth in the bullpen....How are we going to the playoffs again??" The fact that my friend Will (from Belmont, MA) currently lives in Chicago, just proves how much of a fan that he is since he summed up the season better than I could have and I've been writing about them for months!

Boston (92-65) beat Cy Young favorite Cliff Lee (22-3; it was his first loss since July 6) and the Cleveland Indians (79-78) last night at Fenway, 5-4, to clinch a playoff spot.

The celebration may have been a bit over the top but as the past Wild Card winners have shown, if you can make the playoffs in baseball, you have as good a shot as any other team to advance deep into it and maybe even win the World Series. This Sox team has been held together by band aids and supporting players for the past few months but if Lowell and Drew can comeback, not to mention if Beckett can continue to rebound in his favorite time of year no less, Boston just might be celebrating another World Series title in a little over a month.

Kevin Youkilis (three walks) hit a two-run homer in the fourth to give his team a 2-0 lead. Cleveland scored four runs off Tim Wakefield in the fifth, to temporarily go up 4-3. Grady Sizemore had an RBI single, Jamey Carroll had an RBI groundout while Shin-Soo Cho and Jhonny Peralta added RBI doubles.

In the fifth, Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, 2 RBIs, run) knocked in Jacoby Ellsbury (who extended his career high 14 game hit streak) and Coco Crisp. Jason Bay knocked in Pedroia with an RBI single that turned out to be the winning run.

Wakefield (10-11) wasn't great but he got the win after six innings of work. He allowed four earned runs on six hits with a walk and six strikeouts.

The Red Sox bullpen stepped up as Manny Delcarmen got two outs, Hideki Okajima made Victor Martinez pop up with the bases loaded and two outs to end the seventh. Justin Masterson recorded the first two outs in the eighth before running into trouble. No problem though as Jonathan Papelbon retired Carroll on his first pitch, stranding the bases loaded again. Papelbon struck out two in the ninth with some gas as the 1-2-3 inning gave him his 41st save of the season.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sox end road trip and regular season road games on a high note

Another Red Sox game was completely forgotten on a Sunday afternoon as it was on at the same time as the Patriots' debacle against the Dolphins.

Unlike their football counterparts, the Sox (91-64) took care of business in their last road game of the regular season, shutting out the Blue Jays (83-73), 3-0.

Dice-K improved to 18-2. For real. He went seven innings, allowing only two hits, with two walks and six strikeouts. Hideki Okajima had a 1-2-3 eighth and Jonathan Papelbon recorded his 40th save of the season (the first time he's reached 40 in his career).

Boston's offense was all from David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Pedroia knocked in Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly in the first. Ortiz hit a two-run bomb-his 22nd of the season-in the third which also scored Ellsbury. Pedroia added a hit and a steal while Ellsbury notched two doubles and a triple. He has seemingly found his way at the plate at just the right time.

Coupled with Tampa Bay's loss, the Sox are just 1.5 games back in the AL East (2 in the loss column) and their magic number is down to one in the Wild Card.

Cleveland comes to Fenway tonight for four games and then the regular season closes with the Yankees in town for three over the weekend. October baseball can't come soon enough.

I Don't Want to Live in a World Where Joey Porter is a Prophet

After a misleading win over the Jets last Sunday, the New England Patriots started to realize what they're missing since Tom Brady went down with a season-ending injury. The Miami Dolphins-losers of 18 of their last 20 games-came into Foxborough and thoroughly dominated the Pats, leaving with a 38-13 win that didn't even seem that close.

A fully healthy Ronnie Brown was the best player on the field. He ran 17 times for 113 yards (with a nine-yard catch), 4 touchdowns and he threw a 19-yard TD pass to tight end Anthony Fasano. Miami used a Wildcat formation (the Wildhog look that Arkansas used the last few seasons with Darren McFadden). Apparently, the Pats and none of their coaches have turned on a college game lately as Brown and Ricky Williams (16 carries, 98 yards; 2 catches, 21 yards) repeatedly gashed the New England defense for huge gains.

Things never seemed right from the start, even against such a bad team in a very winnable game at home. Brown started his scoring binge with a 2-yard plunge in the first quarter. Once again, Matt Cassel (19 for 31, 131 yards, touchdown, interception) and the Patriots offense struggled in the red zone. Stephen Gostkowski got New England on the board with a 37-yard kick in the beginning of the second quarter.

Brown answered with a 15-yard run to put Miami (1-2) up 14-3. Clearly, the Pats (2-1) couldn't keep settling for field goals when their defense wasn't making any stops. Gostkowski added a 44-yard field goal and New England was lucky to get that. Cassel's pass for Wes Welker (6 catches, 55 yards; 1 carry, 19 yards) went through a Dolphin's arms and Welker grabbed it for a 21-yard gain.

Cassel threw an interception to Miami defensive end Randy Starks, who returned it eight yards. Brown's 5-yard TD run with less than a minute left in the half was a killer as it put Miami up 21-6 going into the break.

New England would make radical adjustments at halftime, right? Not really. Chad Pennington (17 for 20, 226 yards) kept finding open receivers down the field while the Patriots' D could never get off the field.

Fasano hauled in the 19-yard pass from Brown to give the Dolphins an insurmountable 28-6 lead in the third quarter. New England received a temporary boost when Cassel found Jabar Gaffney for a 5-yard TD pass but it was too little too late.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Brown went 61 yards for his final score. Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter added a 39-yard kick to make the final margin 38-13.

Randy Moss (4 catches, 25 yards) was completely nonexistent for the second week in a row. The bye week actually comes at a fitting time for New England as they have to go back to the drawing board. This ultra-conservative play-calling isn't working and they have to figure out how to improve things on defense or else there will be a bunch more ugly games like yesterday.

Their schedule is still cake and although the Bills are 3-0 (and probably the class of the AFC East), their division is still miserable. It's one game and it will probably force the Patriots to look in the mirror and realize that Brady ain't coming back this season so they have to develop a new identity. They can't get much lower than yesterday.

In a sign of how bad it was, the best player for New England was probably Ellis Hobbs who returned six kicks for 237 yards, including an 81-yard burst. Joey Porter, who is washed up and talked trash during the week to the three people that paid attention, backed it up with three sacks.

After next week's bye, the Pats will travel to San Francisco then San Diego.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Um yeah, we're probably not going to win the AL East after all

Time is running out on the Red Sox and their hopes of winning the AL East; the math is becoming more and more stacked against them. With the Rays' 10-3 win over Boston last night, Tampa Bay (90-60) takes a two-game lead in the AL East.

Boston (89-63) has played two more games and is three games back in the loss column. So you might as well start printing those Tampa Bay Rays 2008 AL East Champion t-shirts while also booking flights to Disneyland, the Sox are likely going to face the Angels in the first round of the playoffs.

The positive from last night's loss for Boston was that David Ortiz seemed to find his power stroke. Papi blasted a two-run homer in the first off Rays starter Matt Garza and added a solo shot in the fourth off Garza.

Other than that, it was all Rays as Tim Wakefield (9-11) and a bunch of scrub Red Sox relievers had nothing. Willy Aybar (two-run; 3 RBIs, 3 hits, 2 runs), Gabe Gross (solo) and Fernando Perez all had homers off Wakefield.

Wakefield was knocked around for six earned runs on six hits in 2.1 innings.

The Red Sox have today off and will look to regroup north of the border as they begin a three-game series in Toronto tomorrow night.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Those Pesky Rays Do It Again

In 2008, when you look up resilient in the dictionary, you should find a picture of the Tampa Bay Rays. Every time the Red Sox appear ready to finally retake the top spot in the AL East, the Rays come through with a clutch win.

Last night was more of the same as Tampa Bay (89-60) had a walk-off 2-1 win against the Red Sox (89-62), giving the Rays a one-game lead in the division.

What started as an old fashioned pitchers duel between Josh Beckett and Andy Sonnanstine was decided by the bullpens as Dioner Navarro hit a single to deep center off Justin Masterson (6-5) with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth.

It was scoreless until the sixth when Kevin Youkilis drove in Jacoby Ellsbury (2 hits, run) with a sacrifice fly. Carlos Pena-who can officially be dubbed a Red Sox killer-cranked an opposite field homer off Beckett in the seventh to tie it at 1.

Beckett looked great, going eight innings and allowing just the one run on three hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. Sonnanstine went six innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts.

The difference on this night was that although Beckett gave Boston a slightly better start than Sonnanstine, Tampa's trio of relievers were more effective than Masterson.

Grant Balfour recorded four outs, J.P. Howell retired four batters and Dan Wheeler (5-5) struck out the one man he faced, to earn the win.

Tonight is the series (and regular season) finale for Tampa Bay and Boston. The next time the two teams could meet would be in the ALCS. Don't be surprised if that happens.

Matt Garza starts for the Rays tonight with Tim Wakefield taking the mound for the Red Sox.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sox tied for AL East lead

The Tampa Bay Rays had been sitting pretty in first place in the AL East since July 24. Not so much anymore. The Red Sox smoked the Rays, 13-5, last night behind six home runs and the teams are now tied.

For a team that hadn't won in Tampa all year, the Red Sox (89-61) made last night a laugher pretty quickly which was appreciated with the Cowboys-Eagles game on Monday Night Football. Boston led 11-1 going into the bottom of the fourth and 13-1 going into the bottom of the sixth before the Rays (88-60) woke up.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, king of the fraud pitchers, continued to pile up impressive numbers despite less than masterpiece quality starts every time out. Five innings and 101 pitches later, Dice-K was 17-2, the most wins for a Japanese-born pitcher in MLB. He allowed one run on three hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.

The Sox' lineup pounded Scott Kazmir (11-7) and a host of Rays relievers for 11 hits and nine walks. David Ortiz (2 hits, 4 RBIs) started it off with a three-run bomb in the first, knocking in Coco Crisp (3 walks, 2 runs, hit) and Dustin Pedroia (run, hit, RBI, walk) who had both walked to begin the game. Kazmir was knocked out after three innings, allowing nine earned runs on six hits with four walks and two strikeouts.

Two batters later, Mike Lowell hit a solo shot. Tampa Bay got one back in the third when Akinori Iwamura hit a solo homer but Boston exploded for seven in the fourth. Bay got it going with a solo homer, Jason Varitek hit a two-run bomb which scored Jed Lowrie (3 walks), Pedroia knocked in Ellsbury with an RBI single, Crisp came home on Ortiz's fielder's choice and Kevin Youkilis brought home Ortiz with another homer.

Ellsbury homered in the fifth and Youkilis added an RBI double in the sixth, putting the Red Sox ahead 13-1. After that, the benches were emptied as both teams put in the scrubs that were called up when the rosters expanded.

Justin Ruggiano and Dan Johnson each had two-run dingers for Tampa Bay in the sixth and seventh respectively.

Tonight's the big night where the Sox can finally pull ahead in the AL East. Who better to take the ball than Josh Beckett (who should be able to reach 100 pitches after having abbreviated starts recently while he returned from injury)? Andy Sonnanstine tries to save the Rays' division hopes which are quickly fading.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's time to win in Tampa Bay

With 13 games left in the regular season, the Boston Red Sox (88-61) are one game back of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.

Boston did what it had to do over the weekend, taking three of four from what had been a red-hot Toronto Blue Jays (80-70) team.

Jon Lester capped off the series yesterday afternoon with eight solid innings as the Red Sox held off the Blue Jays, 4-3.

In improving to 15-5, Lester lasted eight innings, giving up one run on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

Roy Halladay (18-11) didn't go the whole way which is newsworthy. He pitched seven innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits with five strikeouts.

Boston's hottest hitter continued to scorch the ball, Coco Crisp contributed two hits and two RBIs.

Jose Bautista had a solo homer in the first off Lester but the Red Sox scored four straight runs. Ortiz knocked in Jacoby Ellsbury with an RBI groundout in the first while Crisp's RBI singles were in the second and seventh. Kevin Youkilis' sacrifice fly in the eighth pushed across Ortiz with what turned out to be a vital run.

Jonathan Papelbon gave up two runs in the ninth but still managed to record his 38th save of the season. Adam Lind had an RBI single for Toronto and Scott Rolen drove in the other run with a groundout.

The Sox left after the game for Tampa Bay and three games at the Trop. Boston is winless (0-6) in Tampa Bay this season but that will soon be forgotten if they can pick up a win or two the next few days.

Dice-K and Scott Kazmir go tonight.

Sorry haters: the Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East and maybe the AFC

Sorry ESPN, every expert and non-Patriots fan around the country. You would have thought it was a national holiday last weekend when Tom Brady went down with a torn ACL and MCL. The Patriots are done, why bother playing the rest of the season? The Jets were better, the Bills were now the team to beat and even the Dolphins would be improved (which isn't saying much since they won 1 game last season).

How would Matt Cassel respond? This is a guy that hadn't started a football game since 1999 (in high school). All week, all we heard was how the Pats and Matt Cassel were going to take a page out of the 2001 Tom Brady/underdog Patriots script.

Everything went well in Cassel's first start yesterday at the Meadowlands against the Jets. New England (2-0) came home with a 19-10 win over the overhyped Jets (1-1) and over-the-hill Brett Favre.

The key difference between the Patriots in 2001 and now is that New England has so many weapons these days outside of Brady. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Adalius Thomas, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, etc.

We just have to get used to the games this season not looking like the ridiculous blowouts of last year. Defense, special teams, the running game and Cassel managing the game will be stressed for the rest of the season.

The Jets' first drive of the game was one of its best but they came up empty when Jay Feely missed a 30-yard field goal.

Stephen Gostowski will be another star in this new Patriots pecking order. The red zone was the one area where Cassel (16 of 23, 165 yards) and the offense really struggled. That was OK though as Gostowski was 4 for 4 on field goals. Stevie opened the scoring with a 21-yard kick, 12 minutes into the game.

Gostowski hit a 37-yarder in the beginning of the second quarter. The Jets had first and goal at the 3 but after three straight running plays, they had to settle for a 21-yard Feely kick (6-3 Patriots).

In a game where scoring was scarce, Sammy Morris' 1-yard plunge that put New England up 13-3 early in the third quarter was huge.

Favre (18 of 26, 181 yards), who's always good for a costly mistake or two, came through with an awful pick in the third quarter. Brandon Meriweather recorded the first interception of his NFL career and returned it six yards. Gostowski added another field goal, this one from 28 yards to put the Patriots up 16-3.

Laveranues Coles had a 54-yard catch, the biggest play of the day. He finished with 3 catches for 72 yards.

The Jets finally showed some life in the fourth quarter when Favre found Chansi Stuckey for a 2-yard touchdown pass. From there, New England played keep away as the Jets defense couldn't stop Kevin Faulk (4 catches, 50 yards; 3 carries, 16 yards) or Lamont Jordon (11 carries, 62 yards). Laurence Maroney left in the second quarter with a typical mysterious injury (shoulder) but the running game didn't skip a beat.

Gostowksi had one more field goal, a 29-yarder, with five minutes remaining to put the game out of reach (19-10).

And when Bill Belichick and the rest of the team woke up today, the Chargers (0-2), Jaguars (0-2), Browns (0-2) and Colts (1-1) are all behind the Patriots. You can't make too many conclusions in the first few weeks of the NFL regular season but this much is clear: with a cake schedule, the Patriots will make the playoffs.

Nobody in the NFL is more talked about than Brett Favre and that's unfortunate. He's a Hall-of-Famer who took the Packers hostage and as a result, will play out a few meaningless years in New York. He makes the Jets only marginally better while the Packers with Aaron Rodgers seemed to have improved with Favre out of there.

Miami comes to Gillette Stadium next Sunday afternoon. The Dolphins are 0-2 and still one of the worst teams in the NFL.

One of the few worries coming out of the game was Randy Moss (2 catches, 22 yards) being a distraction over his lack of production. After the game, Moss (who's a captain this season) was fine with the way things went which is a good sign. Cassel had one opportunity to find Moss deep but he underthrew him in the third quarter.

The Patriots defense looked solid as rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo (7 tackles) continues to impress. Richard Seymour and Adalius Thomas each had a sack. Thomas's was particularly entertaining as he tossed Favre and Leon Washington (who tried to block him) for a long loss.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

which hurts more: a ninth-inning comeback or an extra innings marathon loss?

If the Tampa Bay Rays defy the odds and somehow win the 2008 World Series, the last two nights at Fenway Park will no doubt figure prominently in the official championship DVD narrated by Dick Vitale.

After stunning Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox in the ninth on Tuesday night, Tampa Bay (87-57) hung around last night and eventually won 4-2 thanks to Carlos Pena's three-run homer off Mike Timlin in the top of the 14th.

With the win, the Rays move back to 2.5 games ahead of Boston (85-60). The teams only have three more games left in the regular season, beginning Monday at the Trop (where the Red Sox are 0-6 this season).

Josh Beckett looked good once again on a low pitch count (84 pitches in 6 innings, are you taking notes Dice-K?). He allowed one run on six hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.

One of the worst aspects of the loss was 7.1 innings of scoreless relief by four Boston relievers was thrown out the window after Timlin's work. Hideki Okajima (1 inning), Justin Masterson (2 innings), Manny Delcarmen (2 innings) and even Javier Lopez (2.1 innings-which has to be a career-high) allowed only three hits and three walks over their combined seven innings.

Timlin's had two outs in the 14th before giving up a 3-0 hit to Akinori Iwamura and another single to Rocco Baldelli before Pena hit his 28th homer of the season. Timlin's (4-4) ERA is now 6.09. He shouldn't be on the postseason roster, there I said it. If you're only let in the game in the 14th (despite not working in days) that should let you know how much confidence Terry Francona and the rest of his staff have in you.

Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine pitched seven innings, giving up one unearned run on four hits with seven strikeouts.

Willy Aybar (2 hits, 1 RBI, walk) tripled home Cliff Floyd in the second to put Tampa up 1-0. Boston responded in the third when Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, RBI, walk) hit an RBI double which scored Jed Lowrie.

It looked like the Red Sox might pull off a ridiculous comeback of its own in the 14th when Troy Percival couldn't get anyone out (I'm sure he's hurt again) and left with the bases loaded. Jason Hammell came in and got Kevin Youkilis to fly out to right which scored Jacoby Ellsbury. Jason Bay (0 for 7, 3 strikeouts) struck out and Alex Cora popped out to end the game.

Toronto-the hottest team in the American League-comes to Boston tomorrow with four games in three days (doubleheader on Saturday). The Sox have had plenty of trouble with the Blue Jays this season so they'll have their hands full.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

a pride win for a young team

Barring any crazy collapses, the Tampa Bay Rays are going to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Your defending World Champion Boston Red Sox should be there as well.

Last night, the Rays (86-57) refused to lose and survived to post one of the biggest wins in Rays history, 5-4 over the Red Sox (85-59) at Fenway.

Jason Bay hit a two-run rope over the Monster in the bottom of the eighth off Dan Wheeler, putting Boston up 4-3 going into the ninth. Jonathan Papelbon had to loosen up quickly but everything seemed to be aligning perfectly for the Red Sox. If they could hold on, they'd regain first place in the AL East for the first time since June 28.

Instead, the Rays rallied to tie it on Dan Johnson's pinch hit homer to right and took the lead on Dioner Navarro's RBI double which knocked in Fernando Perez. Papelbon (5-4), pitching for the third straight day, was ineffective and charged with the blown save, his fifth of the season.

Injury-prone, over-the-hill closer Troy Percival nailed down the final three outs for his 28th save of the season. Mark Kotsay led off the inning with a lenghty at-bat which led to a walk. Jacoby Ellsbury pinch ran. Jason Varitek struck out looking, David Ortiz gave it a ride to right (but this is not the Ortiz of '03-'07) but it fell just short for an out and Coco Crisp popped out to end the game. Ellsbury had stolen second (his 45th steal of the season) and advanced to third on a throwing error on the same play so all Coco had to do was get a hit.

The game was extremely slow, due to the two starting pitchers: Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Kazmir was a little more successful: six innings, two runs on five hits, three walks and four strikeouts. Dice-K went 5 innings, allowing three runs on eight hits with four walks and five strikeouts.

Boston's bullpen before Papelbon was lights out. Javier Lopez threw a scoreless sixth, Manny Delcarmen got five outs and Hideki Okajima struck out the only batter he faced.

Kevin Youkilis doubled in Dustin Pedroia in the first, giving the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. The Rays came back with two in the third. Dice-K hit Cliff Floyd with the bases loaded and Willie Aybar hit a sacrifice fly.

In the fourth, Jason Bartlett doubled which scored Gabe Gross. Mike Lowell homered in the bottom of the inning for the Red Sox, setting the stage for Bay's clutch homer.

Josh Beckett faces Andy Sonnanstine tonight in the series finale. After the Rays finally won its first game at Fenway this season, Boston will need a strong outing from its big game ace. Papelbon shouldn't be available so the late innings could be a nightmare for Boston.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shifting Expectations

With the expected news arriving yesterday that Tom Brady is out for the season with a torn ACL, the Red Sox and Patriots' expectations shifted. Suddenly, the Red Sox are looking like a good bet to make another deep playoff run while any rational Pats fan would be happy with a playoff appearance now that Matt Cassel is the starting quarterback.

Such are the times in the City of Champions. I understand that no other parts of the country will feel bad for the Patriots or their fans. We still have the Celtics (who just won an NBA Championship). And the Sox, who by the way are defending World Champions too. Tough life indeed. While it's stupid to simply stop watching the Pats since Brady is gone, it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds now.

The Tampa Bay Rays came to Fenway last night for an extremely important three-game set. Boston (85-58) won 3-0 behind yet another dominant performance by Jon Lester.

Losers of four straight and five of its last six, Tampa's (85-57) sorry offense could not do anything against Lester. He threw a Dice-K-esque 119 pitches in 7.2 innings, but the difference was that Lester (14-5) was firmly in control the whole time. The lefty struck out nine with three walks, while allowing six hits.

Boston scored all three of its runs in the first off Rays starter Edwin Jackson (11-10). David Ortiz doubled in substitute leadoff hitter Mark Kotsay (2 hits, run, walk). Youk singled in Ortiz and Jason Bay cranked a solo homer off the lights above the Monster.

Coco Crisp continued the best hitting streak of his Red Sox career, going 3 for 3 with a steal.

Jonathan Papelbon recorded four outs for his 36th save of the season. He came in the eighth and struck out Rocco Baldelli with runners on second and third.

Weather permitting, Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka go tonight in game two.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Red Sox gearing up for another memorable October

They forgive you for not paying attention yesterday as Tom Brady's season likely ended, but the Boston Red Sox would like to let you know that they're playing their best baseball of the season with only 20 regular season games left.

Boston beat the Rangers, 7-2, yesterday afternoon in Texas to take two out of three in the Lonestar state. The Red Sox (84-58) are just 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East and Boston leads Minnesota in the Wild Card by 6.5 games.

Alex Cora hit an RBI triple in the second and Coco Crisp (2 hits, 2 runs, RBI steal, walk) followed with a run-scoring single to give Boston the early 2-0 lead. Believe it or not, Crisp has been Boston's hottest hitter the last few weeks which is a sentence I didn't think I'd ever have to write.

David Ortiz hit a two-run bomb in the fifth, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia added RBI singles in the sixth and Jason Bay hit a solo shot in the seventh to give the Sox a 7-0 lead.

Paul Byrd (11-11) continued to impress, submitting his best game in a Sox uniform yesterday. He threw 6.2 scoreless innings, giving up three hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

The Rangers' (70-74) Taylor Teagarden hit a solo homer in the eighth and he also contributed an RBI single in the ninth.

Every series from here on out is huge for Boston's playoff chances. The Tampa Bay Rays come to Fenway tonight for (thus far) the three most important games of the season. In 12 games this year, Boston and Tampa Bay are both 6-6 with the home team winning every contest. The Rays have finally started to stumble lately so this would be the perfect time for the Red Sox to make a further move.

Jon Lester opposes Edwin Jackson tonight.

And there goes the 2008 season for the Patriots

110 consecutive starts. That's the third longest current streak for an NFL quarterback and it's likely to have ended as Tom Brady seriously injured his left knee yesterday in the Patriots' season-opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Backup quarterback Matt Cassel and the Patriots hung on for a 17-10 win at Gillette Stadium but make no mistake, without the 2007 NFL MVP (Brady) healthy, the Patriots will struggle to make the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.

The game got off to a strange start as New England turned it over on their first two possessions. The normally sure handed Wes Welker and Randy Moss both fumbled after making catches. Moss's fumble happened after he hauled in the pass that Brady threw before getting hit on the knee by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard.

Was the hit dirty? It was low and Pollard was basically out of the play after Sammy Morris blocked him to the ground but stuff like this happens in football. Brady has been incredibly durable so it's not like he's Donovan McNabb (going down with an injury every season).

Cassel (13 for 18, 152 yards, 1 touchdown) made the biggest throw of his life on the last play of the first quarter. With the Pats backed up on their own 1, Cassel looked deep and found Moss (6 catches, 116 yards, touchdown) for a 51-yard gain. It sparked the offense as New England eventually scored on a 10-yard toss from Cassel to Moss in the back of the end zone.

Chiefs kicker Nick Novak hit a 40-yard field goal right before halftime as New England went into the locker room with a 7-3 lead.

Credit Cassel and the Patriots offense for not completely falling apart without Brady at the helm. Sammy Morris (10 carries, 53 yards; 5 catches, 34 yards) looked great after missing most of last season. Laurence Maroney had his typical (10 carries, 51 yards) flashes of brilliance but overall nothing special performance.

Kansas City had quarterback problems of its own as starter Brodie Croyle (11 for 19, 88 yards) separated his shoulder in the third quarter after an Adalius Thomas hit. Backup Damon Huard (who's gotta be pushing 60 years old) came in and things surprisingly went well. Huard finished 8 of 12 for 118 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

Morris scored on a 5-yard run, with three minutes left the third quarter as the Pats went up 14-3.

The Chiefs wouldn't go away though-which is a real bad sign for New England-as Dwayne Bowe caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Huard two minutes into the fourth quarter.

Stephen Gostowski made it a seven-point game with 2:26 left by hitting a 37-yard field goal. Ellis Hobbs gave the Pats great field position with a 51-yard kickoff return. The much-maligned cornerback had a great game (by his standards) with an interception and sack.

Things got dicey as Kansas City marched down the field with a 68-yard catch and run from Huard to Devard Darling. The Chiefs had first-and-10 at the Pats' 5 but couldn't cash it in with four chances.

Big picture: without Brady, the Patriots will struggle to go 8-8. Kansas City is a young team, one of the worst in the league and New England had a real hard time putting them away, at home. The AFC East is still nothing special but Buffalo is getting better and the Jets are certainly more dangerous than they were last season. New England has one of the easiest schedules in the league but it's hard to think that Cassel will consistently play like he did yesterday. There's no use in crying or whining since the Patriots have had a remarkable run the last seven years. Injuries occur all the time, we're frankly lucky that Brady had never missed regular season time before. Now the ultimate question will be answered: can a great team survive without its best player?

Cassel's first NFL regular season start will be next Sunday at the Jets.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Orioles will be soon starring in Will Ferrell's latest garbage comedy

Down 4-0 going into the seventh inning yesterday afternoon at Fenway, the Red Sox were not in good shape. No worries though since they were facing the Baltimore Orioles, a team notorious for giving away games (particularly the ones that really matter in August, September, etc).

The fact that the suddenly charmed Sox (82-57) pulled it out, 5-4, was not surprising. The player that jump started Boston was also utterly predictable if you've been paying attention: Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia hit a solo homer into the Monster in the seventh-his 17th of the season. Later in the inning, Coco Crisp (2 hits, RBI walk), walked with the bases loaded to cut the Orioles lead in half.

Alex Cora (3 hits, 1 run) had an awesome defensive play in the eighth which saved a run as he gathered a groundball to short, turned and quickly fired to third where Jed Lowrie tagged out Aubrey Huff. It was a rough day for Huff (2 hits, run, steal) who earlier had a sure homer robbed by a leaping Jacoby Ellsbury in right field.

Mark Kotsay tied it up with a two-run triple to center in the eighth.

Dice-K had a rather pedestrian outing: four runs, four hits, three walks and seven strikeouts in six innings. Javier Lopez pitched a scoreless seventh and Justin Masterson (5-4) threw two clean innings with two strikeouts. It's easy to see that should the Sox make the playoffs (which is looking more likely by the day), Masterson will be a very valuable piece. A reliable reliever outside of Papelbon, what a concept.

Cora had a single to lead off the ninth. Coco tried to bunt him over but luck was on the Red Sox' side as the ball rolled fair after looking like it would go foul. Cora and Crisp were on first and second. Ellsbury also looked to sacrifice the runners over but Orioles rookie reliever Jim Miller tossed the ball well wide of third, into left field. Cora walked home with the winning run.

The Rays have lost two in a row and the Sox have won their last three games so Boston sliced Tampa's AL East lead to three games. Boston is in control of the Wild Card, five games ahead of Minnesota and seven in front of the Yankees.

Today is an offday then the Sox begin three games in Texas against the playing-for-pride Rangers. Their offense is deadly as usual so the Sox will need to get some pitching in Texas. Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett (who's supposed to start tomorrow), Sean Casey and Kevin Youkilis are all scheduled to be back for the series which is great news. Everything seems to be coming together at the perfect time for the Red Sox.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Orioles are falling apart faster than John McCain and Sarah Palin's campaign

The spontaneous combustion of the Orioles' pitching staff (which you can pretty much set your watch to every season) has come at the perfect time for the Boston Red Sox.

After taking game one at Fenway, 7-4 on Labor Day, the Red Sox (81-57) came back last night to smoke the Orioles (63-75), 14-2.

As alluded to in the title, as the Orioles and the Republican Party's nominees fall apart, others are rapidly gaining strength-Obama and Dustin Pedroia for MVP (topical, no?).

Breaking the recent history of Rookie of the Years, who never really do anything after the first year, Pedroia is having a monster season. He leads the AL in batting average and runs. Hitting cleanup the past few games, Pedroia was 3 for 5 last night with five RBIs and a run. He provided the biggest hit of the game, a three-run bomb in the fourth inning.

The suddenly stacked Sox lineup banged out 20 hits and worked eight walks. David Ortiz was 3 for 3 with 4 RBIs, two runs and a walk. Coco Crisp had three hits, three runs and a steal. Jed Lowrie scored three runs, walked three times with a hit and two RBIs. Mark Kotsay (who has been great) added two hits and an RBI. Jeff Bailey notched a hit, two walks and two runs. Finally, Jacoby Ellsbury walked twice, scored twice, stole a base, had a hit and an RBI.

Jon Lester only needed to go five innings to improve his record to 13-5.

Dice-K looks for his 17th win this afternoon as the Red Sox look to sweep Baltimore.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I guess a sweep over the White Sox was wishful thinking

After beating the White Sox Friday and Saturday, the Red Sox went for the sweep yesterday afternoon at Fenway.

Chicago (77-59) grabbed the win, 4-2, as their offense finally woke up a little bit after being held to two runs over the first two games.

The Red Sox (79-57) had eight hits and five walks but they left 18 guys on base which is never a recipe for success.

Tim Wakefield (8-9) went six innings, giving up three runs on six hits with three strikeouts. Despite the loss, Wakefield looked much better in this start than in his first one back from the DL-earlier in the week against the Yankees.

Make no mistake about it, the White Sox are a quality team. They have a bunch of sluggers, a deep pitching rotation and a decent bullpen, highlighted by a top closer. However, their reliance on the long ball might be their undoing in the playoffs (should they hold off the Twins or take the Wild Card).

Gavin Floyd improved to 15-6 by scattering one run and seven hits over 6.2 innings. He walked two and struck out five.

Jim Thome (2 runs, 2 hits, 2 RBIs) hit a two-run homer in the first that wrapped around Pesky's Pole in right and scored Carlos Quentin.

Boston cut the lead in half in the fourth as Jacoby Ellsbury (3 hits, RBI, walk, 2 steals) singled in Jeff Bailey.

Paul Konerko's RBI double in the sixth made it 3-1 Chicago before Joe Crede extended the lead to 4-1 in the ninth with an RBI double.

The Red Sox made some noise in the ninth, scoring a run off White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. With Ellsbury on third, David Ortiz walked, Coco Crisp pinch ran and stole second so Boston had red-hot Dustin Pedroia coming up with two outs, representing the winning run. Pedroia popped up to shallow left on a low slider and Jenks recorded his 27th save.

Taking two out of three was a fine result for the Red Sox who continue to shuffle pitchers and the lineup due to various injuries/illnesses. Pedroia went 4 for 4 in each of the first two games and he currently leads the AL in batting average (.326). It's time to start taking the guy seriously as a MVP candidate; the AL race seems pretty wide open between him, Quentin, Josh Hamilton, Kevin Youkilis, etc.

Baltimore comes to Fenway tonight for three games.