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Thursday, April 24, 2014

There's Dumb and then There is Michael Pineda

It's about time that Red Sox-Yankees had some new drama since admittedly the last few years have been pretty blah for the alleged best rivalry in MLB. Tonight shall forever be known as the night that Michael Pineda overdosed on pine tar. He had gotten away with having it all over his hand two weeks ago when New York (12-9 overall, 6-6 away) beat Boston (10-12 overall, 5-7 home) 4-1 at Yankee Stadium but it was a different story in the friendly confines of Fenway Park.

Red Sox manager John Farrell pointed out the pine tar all over Pineda's neck (I'm serious) and the Yankees hurler was ejected with two outs in the bottom of the second. Boston had already scored twice in the first inning and they went on to post a 5-1 victory that will perhaps propel them out of the depths of mediocrity that they've been stuck in since the opening series in Baltimore.

Let's not have Pineda's utter stupidity completely overshadow what was John Lackey's best performance as a Red Sox (8 innings, 1 earned run, 7 hits, 11 strikeouts, 0 walks), in the regular season at least I know he had some great ones last postseason. It's the second time in his career that he's had 11 Ks & 0 BBs vs. New York (the other was when he was an Angel) and he became only the fourth Red Sox pitcher to do that (joining Pedro Martinez, Jim Lonborg and Cy Young).

Pineda figures to be suspended by MLB, how long is another question but he also screwed his team over since his manager Joe Girardi had to burn through four additional relievers. Boston went up 2-0 in the first on RBI singles by Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, 2 runs) and A.J. Pierzynski (walk). The Red Sox pushed two more runs across in the third against David Phelps on a ground rule double by Mike Napoli (3 for 4) and a wild pitch.

Alfonso Soriano's sacrifice fly in the sixth produced New York's only run. Brock Holt (2 walks) continued his fine play with an RBI single in the eighth that drove in Xander Bogaerts (single, run). You hate to see him used in non-save situations but Farrell always plays Koji Uehara when he's warmed up so he went out there in the ninth and struck out the side to end it.

To kill time before Bruins-Red Wings Game 4 tomorrow night (8, NESN), we will probably see about 1.5 innings of the series finale between the Red Sox and Yankees (7:10, NESN Plus). CC Sabathia (2-2) faces Felix Doubront (1-2) and they both suck so both teams could put up big numbers as they try to clinch the three-game series.

Patriots 2014 Regular Season Schedule Announced

You have to hand it to the NFL, they are the only pro sports league in America that can make something as mundane as schedule unveilings into a must-see event every year. Tonight on the NFL Network, every team found out what their 2014 regular season will look like (granted they already knew the opponents just not the particulars). Of course with the 2014 NFL Draft two weeks from tomorrow not to mention months and months of training camp, preseason, injuries and transactions to take place, it is pointless to project wins and losses. Still, you know that the Pats are good for at least 10 wins every season in the sad sack AFC East.

New England opens up in Miami on Sunday, September 7 (1, CBS) and they close Sunday, December 28 vs. Buffalo (1, CBS). In between that, they have five primetime games (3 Sunday, 1 Monday and 1 Thursday) plus keep in mind that flex scheduling starts as early as Week 5 this season so they could possibly be in more than we know at the moment.

The Pats play two shitbag teams in a row early on: at Minnesota in Week 2 and vs. Oakland in Week 3 which are basically automatic wins. Things start to get interesting again in Week 4 as they travel to Kansas City for Monday Night Football. Can't wait to hear Gruden compare Tom Brady and Alex Smith, that should be neat. That's followed by another national game as they host Cincinnati on Sunday Night Football.

They won't have to deal with the terrible winter weather in Buffalo (we hope) as they get that out of the way in Week 6. Then it's a short week as they host the Jets on Thursday Night Football. Week 8 finds Jay Cutler and the Bears in Foxborough then Week 9 is the game of the year in the AFC and one of the marquee matchups in the NFL as Peyton Manning and the Broncos visit (surprisingly a 4:25 start but I bet that changes).

Week 10 is New England's bye and they are challenged coming out of that as they travel to Indianapolis in Week 11 for a Sunday Night contest. The following Sunday they host the Lions (before Thanksgiving) then in Week 13 they travel to Green Bay-a pretty cool road trip that they rarely make. Week 14 is their last primetime game as they go to San Diego.

The regular season concludes with three straight games against their AFC East foes: vs. Miami, at New York and vs. Buffalo. There are plenty of other things to distract us (NHL and NBA playoffs, MLB to a lesser extent) but it's nice to at least have this to daydream about when the summer drags along. The draft is always a great event that any true football fan looks forward to every spring.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bruins Begin to Assert Their Dominance over Red Wings with 3-0 Win in Game 3

You won't find a much more impressive or thorough road win in the NHL playoffs than the one turned in by the Bruins tonight in Game 3 of their first round series vs. Red Wings. Boston won 3-0 at Joe Louis Arena to take a 2-1 series lead. The B's have won the last two games and outscored the Red Wings 7-2 overall in the series. Tuukka Rask made 23 saves for his fourth career postseason shutout but truthfully, he didn't have to stop too many spectacular shots besides Justin Abdelkader's backhander in the third period.

Boston never really let Detroit get comfortable as they scored two goals in the first period. The Bruins continued their theme of different players stepping up every game as Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Caron (seriously) potted the first two tallies. Through the first three games, seven different Bruins have scored all their goals.

Hamilton's came on a rush at 9:00 when Detroit gave him way too much space so he roofed a shot past Jimmy Howard (31 saves). Reilly Smith and Patrice Bergeron had the assists. Every Bruins fan has made fun of Caron numerous times or just gotten tired of ripping him so it was nice to see him actually make a nice play. He came off the bench for a line change and bolted right to the net so he was there for the rebound after Shawn Thornton's shot at 15:48. It was his first career playoff goal. Kevan Miller had the second assist.

Much like the second period of Game 2, the Red Wings started to wake up in the second 20 minutes but they weren't able to score so it didn't matter all that much. With the way they dominated puck possession and in terms of quality scoring chances, the B's probably should have won by four or five goals. Patrice Bergeron's audacious empty-netter (from inside his own blue line) at 18:01 sealed it.

Red Wings fans took off after that so when the final whistle blew, the stands were nearly empty. The remaining stragglers were left stunned by the Bruins. Game 4 is on Thursday (8, NESN) and needless to say it is the most important one so far in the series. If Boston wins, I think they'll definitely close out Detroit in five at the Garden on Saturday. If Detroit wins, buckle up because this would probably go seven games. What's better than playoff hockey?

That killer strain of the flu that numerous Bruins picked up finally seemed to have left as Matt Bartkowski played in his first game of the series. That meant that Andrej Meszaros went back to where he belongs-as a healthy scratch in the lineup.

UPDATE 4/24: The three Selke Trophy finalists were named today: Bergeron, LA's Anze Kopitar and Chicago's Jonathan Toews.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's Up With Clay Buchholz?

There was a time when Clay Buchholz was one of the most talented starting pitchers in MLB. Of course, he could never really put it together for a full season based on his frail body and reluctance to play through any type of pain. Now, those days seem like a distant memory as he continually gets lit up (twice in four starts this season). Today he ruined what was a perfect Patriot's Day in Boston with the Marathon as the Red Sox fell 7-6 to the Orioles at Fenway Park in the four-game series finale which the teams split.

Buchholz (0-2) allowed six earned runs on seven hits in 2.1 pathetic innings. Boston (9-11 overall, 4-6 home) was down 6-0 in the third inning and almost completed another amazing comeback for the second day in a row but you can't expect that against a decent team like Baltimore (9-9 overall, 5-5 away) or any in MLB really outside of maybe the Cubs.

The frustrating part was that Baltimore didn't exactly crush hits around the ballpark, they just kept getting on base vs. Buchholz in the six-run third. Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis had RBI singles, a run scored on a fielder's choice, Steve Clevenger hit an RBI double and Jonathan Schoop ended Buchholz's holiday early with a run-scoring single.

Wei-Yin Chen (3-1) didn't have a great outing by any means but compared to Buchholz, he looked like Nolan Ryan in his prime. He went five innings, allowing three earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

The Red Sox cut the lead in half with three runs in the fifth. Jackie Bradley Jr. started it off with an RBI double, Brock Holt (2 hits, run) had a sacrifice fly and Dustin Pedroia (2 doubles, 2 walks) played wall ball with an RBI double. David Ross made it 6-4 Orioles with a solo homer into the Monster seats, his first home run of the season.

Ryan Flaherty added an RBI single in the eighth for the Orioles which turned out to be a very important run because Mike Napoli hit a solo bomb in the home half of the frame and Boston could have put together a bigger inning if Xander Bogaerts didn't have a careless baserunning blunder.

Baltimore's bullpen is one of the things that will probably hold them back for contending for the AL East all season, personified by mediocre pitcher turned closer Tommy Hunter. Still, he got the job done today at least despite allowing a run on Napoli's ground out. Pinch hitter Mike Carp was the last out as he stranded Pedroia on third and David Ortiz on second. Ugh. The good news regarding him and the utterly useless Jonathan Herrera is that both should see much less playing time in the near future with Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks currently rehabbing in Pawtucket.

Boston's tour of the parity filled AL East (all five teams were separated by two games entering today) continues tomorrow with three games against the Yankees (11-8 overall) at Fenway. Then they have three in Toronto this weekend and three against Tampa Bay in Boston. The Red Sox-Yankees pitching matchups are Jon Lester (2-2) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (2-0) tomorrow night (7:10, NESN), John Lackey (2-2) takes on Michael Pineda (2-1) on Wednesday (7:10, NESN) and Felix Doubront (1-2) opposes not fat CC Sabathia (2-2) on Thursday (7:10, NESN).

Red Sox Win Ugly Game in Gross Way: Walk-Off Error

You are excused if you either didn't watch the Red Sox-Orioles game tonight or at least changed it after Boston went down 5-0 in the sixth inning. Who could have predicted that Boston (9-10 overall, 4-5 home) would rally for a wild 6-5 win at Fenway Park over bumbling Baltimore (8-9 overall, 4-5 away)?

It was tied at five in the bottom of the ninth when Mike Carp lined out to left but David Lough made a terrible relay throw and third baseman Jonathan Schoop ran from the ball like it was a grenade. The bottom line was that Dustin Pedroia scored the winning run as Boston escaped with an improbable 6-5 victory. The best part for all involved (players, fans, media) is that it didn't go to extra innings since Marathon Monday is tomorrow with its customary 11 a.m. start time.

The Jake Peavy of late 2013 made the start and Baltimore scored three in the first inning on a homer by Nelson Cruz (his third of the season, all against Boston), Matt Wieters had an RBI single and J.J. Hardy added a run with a sacrifice fly. Things got worse as Lough had an RBI double in the fifth and Adam Jones (4 hits, double, run) made it 5-0 with a run-scoring single.

For a while, Ubaldo Jimenez looked pretty good but then he remembered how much he always struggles against the Red Sox. Jonny Gomes started the comeback with a three-run bomb in the sixth (his second of the season) and David Ortiz cut it to 5-4 with an RBI single in the seventh. The tying run scored on a fielder's choice by Mike Napoli. Speaking of Nap, he got drilled right on the kneecap in the ninth but somehow stayed in the game on a cold night. Props to him, that had to kill. Coupled with his mangled finger, this hasn't been the best week of his life by any means.

It was a tough night for Lough, he actually was unwittingly Baltimore's last out as he struck out against Edward Mujica (the only batter he faced). For those four pitches, Mujica picked up his first win as a Red Sox (1-1). Boston has won the last two games after dropping Friday's series opener; they'll go for the series win this afternoon as Clay Buchholz (0-1) looks for his first victory of the season against Wei-Yin Chen (2-1).

It should be an emotional day at Fenway with the Boston Marathon going on in the background. Patriot's Day is always a special time in Boston and this year in particular with last year's bombings fresh in our minds should be particularly meaningful. The Red Sox did a great job with a touching pregame ceremony before tonight's contest. Expect more stuff tomorrow dedicated to the victims, first responders and runners.

Bruins Even Series with Convincing 4-1 Win in Game 2

It only took one period (or more accurately half of one) for the Bruins to show that Friday was probably a mirage and they more closely resemble the squad that rolled to a 4-1 win over the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. Boston evened the series at one heading back to dumpy Detroit for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday (7:30, NESN) and Thursday (8, NESN) respectively. The B's depth, top notch goaltending and superb special teams all added up to a relatively easy victory.

Just like the real Bruins appeared in Game 2, the true Jimmy Howard (25 saves) also made his presence felt. His brutal pass in a Detroit defenseman's skates led to an easy goal for Boston rookie Justin Florek at 7:28 of the first period. Fellow rookie Reilly Smith scored 3:07 after that on a power play (the first of two for Boston). He was on the doorstep and was able to sweep in a rebound, assisted by Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron on his first career NHL postseason goal.

The normally stoic Red Wings clearly lost their cool, capped off by Brendan Smith (Reilly's brother) yapping with Zdeno Chara to end the first. Haha what was he thinking? He's just likely the linesman stepped in before Chara made like a National Geographic movie and destroyed him. All he could do was smile and laugh. Detroit cut it to 2-1 at 13:20 of the second period as Tuukka Rask's (34 saves) rebound deflected in the net off of Luke Glendening's body.

No worries, Boston bounced right back with a very timely goal by Milan Lucic at 18:16 to regain their two-goal advantage. He finished a pretty passing sequence with Jarome Iginla and Torey Krug. Zdeno Chara's power play goal at 2:27 gave the B's a nice cushion in the third period. Iginla and Krug each picked up their second assists on Chara's goal that came after the captain parked right outside the paint vs. Howard and knocked in a loose puck. Boston's penalty kill is a perfect six-for-six this series including four-for-four in Game 2.

We know that there will be a Game 5 back at the Garden on Saturday, the question is if either team will be trying to eliminate the other that day. Rask has only allowed two total goals so he has to be feeling pretty good about himself. Kevan Miller returned for Game 2 and he definitely brings another physical dimension to Boston. Game 3 is another important one that could go a long way towards determining who takes this series and in how many games.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Well The Bruins Aren't Going to Sweep the Red Wings, That's For Certain

This might be the easiest Bruins game recap that I've ever written. Tonight they dropped Game 1 of the first round to Detroit, 1-0 at TD Garden. The result wasn't that surprising if you watched the game because Boston took way too long to find itself and by the time they did, it was in the third period.

Red Wings superstar Pavel Datsyuk made an incredible move to get open then snap a shot past Tuukka Rask (23 saves) at 16:59 of the third period. He was assisted by Johan Franzen. That's all that Jimmy Howard (25 saves) needed as he posted his third career playoff shutout.

There is no need to panic (yet) for Bruins fans but I will say that I think Game 2 on Sunday (3, NBC) is basically a must-win. I had a hunch this series would go six or seven so I felt like the Red Wings would win a few games but the B's really don't want to be down 2-0 then going on the road.

Boston's top line was mostly non-existent and the second line was just ok. The defense pairings and last two forward lines were remodeled as Chris Kelly (back), Daniel Paille (concussion), Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller (both have flu, I think) were all surprisingly out. It's not like any of those guys is irreplaceable but losing them all at the same time means that the Bruins don't have the depth they normally display.

The B's will also have to change their gameplan a bit in later games too since they didn't possess the puck nearly enough or go on the power play (once). It's nice that they had eight more hits (34-26) than the Red Wings but Detroit didn't seem to mind at all as they owned the puck which is the most important aspect of hockey besides scoring goals which they could also improve on.

UPDATE 4/19: Milan Lucic was fined $5000 (most allowed under CBA) for spearing Danny DeKeyser in the groin last night, Happy Easter!