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Posts Tagged ‘Roy Halladay’

We are now a mere five days away from the start of what could be our first hundred-win season in sixty-four years.  This is the part where everyone starts speculating about who’s better, us or the Yankees or the Rays.  That’s a ridiculous thing to do.  We have our guys who play our game, and that’s how we intend to win.  It doesn’t matter who the opponent is.  Our goal is to be better than everybody.  And we are.  And we will be.  Five more days.  Only five more days.

On Sunday, we lost to the Cards, 10-3, but it actually was not Dice-K’s fault.  I repeat: it was not Dice-K’s fault.  It’s so refreshing to be able to say that.  He pitched shutout ball through five innings against a lineup that did include several regulars, including Pujols and Holliday.  With two outs in the sixth, Pujols walked, Holliday doubled, and Dice-K was pulled.  His line was two runs on three hits.  He struck out four, three looking, and walked two for his second consecutive good start.  Miller came on in relief and was horrible; a walk, another walk with the bases loaded, and six runs on four hits.  Atchison replaced Miller and didn’t fare much better.  Most of the damage was done by Pujols and Holliday alone.

We lost to the Phillies, 4-1, on Monday.  It was Lester’s last lengthy start of spring.  He pitched five and a third innings.  He cruised through the first five.  He actually had a no-hitter going until Roy Halladay of all people hit a single with two out in the inning.  Not so much in that one third.  He ended up giving up four runs, three earned, on five hits while walking four and striking out six.  He threw fifty-six of ninety-eight pitches for strikes.  Twenty-five of those pitches were thrown in that sixth inning alone.  Meanwhile, Paps, Bard, Jenks, and Doubront got some throwing time in.

We lost again on Tuesday, to the Rays, 7-4.  Lackey wasn’t at his best; he gave up five runs on six hits over five and a third innings while walking two and striking out four.  He threw sixty-seven of ninety-six pitches for strikes.  Pedroia hit two doubles, and Tek went two for three and threw out a runner.

Wednesday was the team’s only day off this spring.  Gonzalez took the opportunity to DH in a minor league game.  He made extremely solid contact in each at-bat and went three for six with an RBI and a run.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Thursday was not a good day for Buchholz.  He may have thrown eighty-two pitches against the Marlins and struck out five, but he gave up eleven runs, six earned, on eleven hits, four of which were homers, over four innings, leading to our 15-7 loss.  It was a total implosion.  Salty was the bright spot with four RBIs on three hits, a homer and two doubles.  Ellsbury also went deep.

We put the regulars in on Friday but to no avail.  We lost to the Jays, 11-8.  Corey Patterson had to leave after getting hit in the back of the head by a Bard fastball.  Luckily, he walked off the field, and he appears to be alright.  Five members of our starting lineup posted two-hit games.  Beckett, however, gave up seven runs on eleven hits over six-and-change frames.

The Twins beat us, 9-8, on Saturday.  It was all Jenks’s fault.  He was truly terrible for the first time this spring.  He gave up six runs in the ninth.  Dice-K was the opposite; he gave up one run on five hits with a walk and four K’s over six innings.  He threw sixty-three of ninety-four pitches for strikes.  Gonzalez went two for three with his first homer for us.  Okajima delivered a scoreless seventh.  That brings our losing streak to nine.  Oh, Spring Training.

Roster cuts this week included Daniel Nava, Matt Fox, and Mark Wagner.  The bullpen competition looks like it’s going down to the wire.  Gonzalez’s agent has starting to talk extension with Theo.  Gonzalez’s agent is John Boggs, not Scott Boras, so I actually believe him when he says that an extension should be finalized sometime next month.

New England Sports Ventures changed its name to Fenway Sports Group.  I take that as John Henry reassuring everyone that the Red Sox are his top priority.  Honestly, I never really doubted that.  And Pedro Martinez’s portrait will be added to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  Susan Miller-Havens painted him in his Dominican Republic uniform.  Well, he was as interesting a character as he was a baseball player, that’s for sure.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Devils and the Rangers.  But between those two losses was a win so epic and golden that it almost makes you forget them and just focus on the fact that we’re about to clinch a playoff spot.  We soundly thumped the Habs, seven-zip.  You read right.  They had absolutely no chance whatsoever.  And I hope we meet them in the playoffs so we can do it again when it counts even more.  We’re playing the Flyers tonight.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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That was great.  Heading into yesterday’s game, Halladay had four complete games to his credit in ten starts.  He’s an endurance pitcher.  He doesn’t leave ballgames until they’re as good as done.  And we chased him out before he could clear the sixth.  This was his worst start with his new team.

Of course, there’s also the matter of Wakefield shutting out the Phillies for eight innings.

Wake made history yesterday.  He’s the fifth American League righty to earn a win in at least sixteen consecutive seasons with the same ballclub.  He’s also the oldest American League pitcher to toss eight shutout innings since Charlie Hough on July 20, 1992, not coincidentally another knuckler.  He’s now racked up 176 wins, sixteen behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens on the club’s all-time list.  Appropriately, that was his first win of the season, his first since July 8, 2009.  But four of his starts this season have been of quality; he has a 2.08 ERA over his last three.  So he battled back issues, a porous bullpen, and a dramatic role change to come roaring back and make a statement.

Over eight innings, he surrendered five hits with only two free passes and only one K, in classic Wakefield fashion.  He threw only 102 pitches, all but about seventeen of which were knuckleballs.  Only three of his strikes were swinging.  His fastball is excellent.  Tim Wakefield has one of the most effective fastballs in the entire league because it’s surrounded by knuckleballs; it may travel only seventy-five miles per hour, but the batter never sees it coming because it looks like it blazes when it’s embedded in such slow stuff.

He needed a minimum of only seven pitches to finish the fifth, his lowest total of the day.  He needed as many as seventeen to finish his first and last frames, throwing nine of them for strikes in both.  He varied speeds nicely.  He obviously didn’t have much of a mix of pitches to speak of, but the novelty factor took care of that; the knuckleball is just so rare and so tricky a pitch to hit because you can’t predict it at all that he can usually meet with considerable success even without a diverse repertoire of pitches.  His strike zone was nice; he was light on the upper right and lower left corners and, when he did go out of the zone, it was usually at the other corners.  Obviously, there was no discernible pattern in the movement on his pitches.  Absolutely none whatsoever.  But that’s what’s beautiful about them.  When his knuckleball dances, it’s impossible to hit because the batter has absolutely no idea what it’s going to do.  That’s also why it’s tough to catch.  Doug Mirabelli was the resident expert at it; he always said that a knuckleballer must aim for somewhere inside a square bounded by the catcher’s knees and shoulders, and somehow it’ll fall in.No doubt about it; Wake was impressive.  He was really economical; he was only one half-inning away from recording his first shutout since July 29, 1997.  But he was tired after the eighth and couldn’t go back out, so Ramon Ramirez came in and ruined it.  Three runs on three hits, including a solo homer, say the final score was 8-3.

Which means that Wakefield just trumped Halladay in a really big way.  Nobody deserved to do it more.  Halladay is now fourteen and fifteen against us, and when I say us I put the emphasis on Youk, who did most of the damage yesterday and is now batting .375 against him.  To reiterate, we lit up Halladay for eight runs.

Youk led off the second with a triple, and he scored on Drew’s groundout.  We added two more in the fourth when Beltre singled and Dobbs made an error all too painfully familiar to Red Sox Nation – he was standing with his glove down to snare it, but the ball skipped under his glove and through his legs – which allowed V-Mart and Youk to score.  We officially broke Halladay in the sixth, adding four to the board.  Youk again led off the inning with power, launching a home run into the seats in left on a hanging breaking ball, which is something you really don’t see from Halladay.  But that’s what Youk does.  If you throw him a good pitch, he’ll foul it off.  If you throw him a ball, he won’t chase.  But if you throw him a mistake, he’ll make you pay every time.  Scutaro then singled to score Drew.  Wake’s sac bunt moved everyone along, and Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Beltre and Scutaro.  But there’s more to the story.  Castro grabbed the ball and fired to third, but there was nobody there.  There was nobody there because Scutaro, in a fantastic display of heads-up baserunning and overall baseball acumen, rounded third and never slowed down.  He got home safe.  And the Phillies had no idea.

Beltre added the finishing touch with a sac fly that brought Pedroia home.

Tito has stated that Tek won’t be Dice-K’s personal catcher, citing the need for V-Mart’s bat in the lineup.  Tek himself said it wouldn’t be healthy for him to catch all of Dice-K’s starts.  Dice-K even praised V-Mart after his no-no, saying some advice from him helped get him through it.  If you ask me, that may be a mistake.  I think Tek should catch at least one more of Dice-K’s starts before Tito writes that off as a solution.  It’s not like we haven’t done it before; Wakefield is an excellent example.  We actually used to acquire an entirely separate catcher for that purpose and that purpose alone: to catch Wakefield only.  I don’t see how this situation is any different.

We’ve won five of our last six, and our opponents during that stretch have been good teams.  So this is an ideal way to head into the three-game set with Tampa Bay.  It all starts tonight at Tropicana Field when Buchholz takes on Wade Davis.  Winning the first game of this series will be key for several reasons, not the least of which is the preservation of the momentum we’ve built to go into this series.  Also, if Buchholz has himself a quality start tonight, it would cement him as seriously an ace in the making.  Seriously.

AP Photo

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Wow.

I repeat: wow.

My first claim of the day: Victor Martinez should never catch Daisuke Matsuzaka ever again.  Make like Matsuzaka is Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek is Doug Mirabelli, and put Jason Varitek in there every fifth day.  I think that at this point we have more than established the fact that the disparity between Dice-K’s performances with V-Mart behind the dish and with Tek behind the dish is occurring for a reason.  Dice-K’s performances with Tek behind the dish are vastly superior, and when I say vastly I mean vastly.  So that’s the end of it.  That’s your answer right there.

As for the game itself last night, one more time: wow.  That’s the only word I’ve got to describe what I saw last night.  That entire game was absolutely incredible.  I’m not even sure I actually believe what I saw with my own eyes.  That was the best I’ve seen Dice-K pitch, ever.  Really, I was speechless.

To put it simply, Dice-K had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning.  You know you thought he had it in the bag when he somehow grabbed Werth’s would-be line drive in the seventh.  Tek even said that that was the hardest-hit ball caught by a pitcher he’d ever seen, ever.  I’m not really sure how he was able to snare that.  That was pure intuition right there; he just put his glove it in exactly the right position and the ball found it.  You know you thought there was no way it wasn’t going down when Beltre dove to catch Ruiz’s would-be line drive and fired to first in time for the out and the double-up of Ibanez in the eighth.  Because you know that most no-hitters are accompanied by at least one amazing play in the field.

And you saw Lester and Buchholz sitting there and knowing exactly what was going on inside Dice-K”s head.  You saw them sitting with Lackey and Beckett and thinking about what they were thinking when they were that deep into this same thing.

Dice-K was four outs away.  Only for outs away from the mobbing by the teammates; the mad cheering by Red Sox Nation, Philadelphia Chapter; the turning of a corner; and the making of history.  Only for outs away.

But Juan Castro ruined everything and dashed all hopes and convictions when he blooped a single over the reaching glove of Marco Scutaro with only one out left in the eighth inning.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this.  I am convinced that Scutaro could’ve caught that.  Technically, by the rules of baseball, that can’t be considered an error, but I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that it counts for the biggest unofficial error of his career.  He had that.  He just needed to time his leap better.  And we know that’s possible because several starters on our roster do it all the time like it’s a walk in the park (pun intended).  He needed to be maybe a foot more to the right and leap a few seconds later.  So, in short, yes, Marco Scutaro wrecked Dice-K’s no-hitter.

It was crushing.  It was absolutely crushing.  Dice-K has had his fair share of struggles, and with the entire country of Japan watching, it would’ve been magical to see him accomplish that feat.  It also would’ve been a great morale booster for the entire team; we’ve seen what no-hitters can do.  They put life in a team that’s just witnessed, like I said, the magic and the history of it all.  Of all the pitchers in Major League Baseball, he needed that no-hitter.  Of all the teams in Major League Baseball, we needed that no-hitter.

Sadly, and that’s the understatement of the century, it was not to be.  Crushing.

But all you can do is move on.  And that’s exactly what Dice-K did, and what impressed me immensely.  We know from personal experience that, after a pitcher gives up a no-no bid, they have the tendency to unravel completely; that’s when the opposing offense attacks and that’s when you might lose everything.  Dice-K ensured that that didn’t happen as simply and easily as getting Gload to fly out to right field.  But that says a lot about his composure on the mound.  If Dice-K can turn it around permanently, he’d have the potential to be an ideal pitcher for the postseason, where every pitch counts and you can’t afford to get skittish after one mistake.

It was kind of strange as no-no bids go because it was low on strikeouts and comparatively high on pitches.  He struck out only five, two looking, with a very even strike zone and threw 112 pitches, which again was more than Lester needed to get through an entire game.  But even during his best starts during stretches of brilliance, he’d pull this Houdini act and use this uncanny ability of his to remain perfectly calm with runners on base and get himself out of all kinds of jams that he’d personally cause.  Yet another fine quality of a postseason pitcher.  So historically we know that he’s not exactly the epitome of efficiency, but we also know from his career in Japan that throwing large amounts of pitches doesn’t scare him.  He doesn’t mind it.  And if it works, it works.

His mix of pitches was exquisite.  He threw mostly four-seams, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour.  He threw his two-seam at ninety-five.  He located his slider and curveball perfectly and mixed in some cutters and changeups at exactly the right moments.  His fastball, slider, and changeup were the best I’d ever seen them.  All of them had movement, and all of them had life.  A no-hitter is all about being crafty and keeping the lineup guessing.  That’s hard to do the third or fourth time around, but he did it, and it’s no small feat, especially against, as I said, an opponent like Philly.

He needed a game low of eight pitches to clear an inning, and used as few twice, in the sixth and seventh.  He needed nineteen pitches to clear the eighth.  There’s been a general trend in his starts of improving as the game goes on.  And yet another reason why he’d pitch well in the postseason.  The whole outing was just a huge begging of the question of, “What if?”

Bard cleaned up the ninth.  Together they one-hit the Phillies through nine.

The final score was 5-0.  Papi scored on Hermida’s sac fly in the fourth, hustling hard to beat the tag by Ruiz at the plate.  Scutaro opened the fifth with a double, and Dice-K bunted him to third.  Ellsbury walked.  Drew singled in Scutaro, Papi doubled in Ellsbury, and Beltre doubled in Drew and Papi.  Drew and Beltre both went two for four.  Ellsbury started in center, which was a sight for sore eyes, and Papi started at first.

Ultimately, we just have to focus on the win.  We set out to win, and we won.  We won our way, with run prevention.  Of course, that’s easier said than done.  But a win is most definitely better than nothing; we need all the wins we can get.  On the other hand, we also need all the magic we can get.  But there are yet many games to be played.  Starting this afternoon with Wake taking on Halladay.

AP Photo

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This is going to be short because absolutely nothing happened this week.  Nothing.  I think this was the quietest week of the offseason.  Then again, it’s always quiet right before Truck Day.  That’s the big story right there; Truck Day is February 12! Right around the corner! Can’t wait.  Seriously.  Can not wait.  It’s been a long winter and I’m ready to see some eighteen-wheelers head south.

It’s basically settled: the Padres will deal Gonzalez, not sign him to a new deal.  I bet he’ll be out of San Diego by this season’s trade deadline.

Jermaine Dye is still unemployed.  I wouldn’t mind at all if he became a last-minute acquisition.  He’s not what he used to be, but he wouldn’t be starting and we could use the extra power.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s still true, so I’ll say it again: look for Theo to hammer out new deals for both V-Mart and Beckett this season.  V-Mart is probably the least complicated of the two.  .336 average, .405 on-base percentage, .507 slugging percentage, 41 RBIs in 56 games, and consistently brings it when batting third.  V-Mart has an OPS of .837; that’s tenth among catchers with more than twenty-five hundred plate appearances through their seasons at age thirty.  The nine guys ahead of him include five Hall of Famers and two who are headed there.  That’s pretty much everything you need to know.  Sign him.  I’m thinking forty million for four years, or something like that.  Maybe throw in some extra cash because of his added value as a first baseman/DH.  By the way, he wants to stay in Boston.

The Beckett situation is a little trickier.  I know what you’re thinking: just offer him a Lackey-type deal and be done with it.  But it’s not that simple.  He’ll probably get something more like Halladay’s deal with the Phillies because of his shoulder.  Lackey has an issue too, but it’s with his elbow, and recovering from Tommy John surgery is very different from recovering from rotator cuff surgery.  We built protection into Lackey’s contract and will look to do the same with Beckett’s.  If Beckett has a problem with that, make no mistake: he will be allowed to walk.  We will not take unnecessary risks with our investments; that much is certain.  And if he walks, there’s always someone like Cliff Lee.  That isn’t to say he won’t be missed.  He will most definitely be missed.  And measures should be taken to avoid a situation in which he will be missed.  Besides, I wouldn’t necessarily be so sure that Beckett won’t agree to the protection.  He loves playing in Boston.  Lackey and Drew wanted to play in Boston badly enough that they agreed to their protections, no problem.  We could reasonably expect Beckett to do the same.

Last but not least, Nomar Garciaparra’s announcement of his retirement is expected to be imminent.  He says he’s determined to play this season if the right solution comes up, but the problem is that it probably won’t come up.  When the announcement is made, I’ll be ready with a tribute.  For now, suffice it to say that, for better or for worse, he was a legend in Boston and would be missed.

If you thought I didn’t want to talk about the Bruins last week, you can imagine how I feel about talking about them this week.  We’re currently nursing a ten-game losing streak.  Ten games.  Four of those were overtime losses.  Quite frankly, it’s just disgusting.  At this rate, not only will we not make the playoffs, but we’ll finish the season in the dregs of the league.  At least the Olympics are coming up, which should cure some of New England’s Bruins-induced hockey ailments for a little while.

Super Bowl tonight at 6:00PM! As a Pats fan, please allow me to say one thing: Who dat? Here’s to hoping the Saints take care of business.  Get psyched.

Surviving Grady

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The offseason started.  We waited.  The offseason progressed.  We waited.  Our free agents filed.  We waited some more.  The GM meetings ended, and still we waited.  The Winter Meetings started, and we waited.  Things looked bleak.  Were we destined for waiting through the entire offseason? Would we open 2010 without a single big addition? Was Theo Epstein all talk but no game?

Not a chance.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newest member of the Boston Red Sox: John Lackey! Five years and eighty-five million dollars later, we signed the dude who helped usher us out of the playoffs.  But that’s okay with me.  I’d much rather be on the throwing end of the first-pitch-strike machine than on the receiving end.

This is good.  This is very good.  Think about it: a Lester-Beckett-Lackey starting rotation.  That rotation, my friends, will win championships for sure.  Seriously.  Put those three names in a sentence and you’re talking about what is perhaps the most formidable starting rotation in all of Major League Baseball.

Let’s talk about the contract, because we need to get this out of the way.  Eighty-five dollars is a lot of money to spend on a pitcher, but it’s not something we haven’t done before.  We spent at least that amount on Dice-K, between the “right-to-talk” fee and his salary.  The difference is that there’s no negotiating fee here; it’s all going in Lackey’s pocket.  He’ll earn seventeen million per season.  Make no mistake: that’s a lot.  And I know what you’re thinking: now we’ll have to deal with the pulling of the payroll card.  And you’d be right.  But here’s the kicker: technically that card can’t be pulled.  Looking at 2009, the Yankees obviously had the highest payroll.  We weren’t even second or third.  We were fourth, behind the Mets and Cubbies.  And if you look at the disparity between our payroll and the Yanks’, it’s quite considerable.  And even after we start sending Lackey’s paychecks, that’ll still hold.  But wait; there’s more.  Look at the top twenty-five player salaries for last season.  You’ve got A-Rod at the top making thirty-three million (which is ridiculous, by the way), followed by Manny Ramirez, followed by Derek Jeter, followed by Mark Teixeira.  The Yankees are represented six times on that list; the other teams are the Dodgers, Mets, Astros, Tigers, Cubs, Angels, Giants, Braves, Rockies, Mariners, and Phillies.  You will notice that Boston does not appear once on that list.  Not once.  John Lackey will change that, but he won’t even make the top ten.  He’d be somewhere around thirteenth, maybe fourteenth.  Which puts us in league with teams like the Giants, Mariners, Rockies, and Phillies.  Not necessarily the names that first come to mind when you think of big spenders.  All this is to say that just because we’re going to have someone on that list doesn’t mean we’re like the Yankees, even though there will be plenty of people out there who would like to make that claim.  (By the way, just in case someone also tries to convince you that this is exactly like New York signing AJ Burnett for five years and roughly eighty-two million, I would urge you to remember that AJ Burnett was not, is not, and never will be John Lackey.  There is a huge difference, one that will be made painfully obvious to New York in due time.) It just means our general manager is a genius, because not only is this pitcher actually good, but we get him without shipping all our top prospects off to Anaheim.  Thanks, Theo! In you we trust.

This directly affects our ability to sign Jason Bay.  It means we don’t have the ability to sign Jason Bay.  Once it became obvious that he was looking for an offer we just couldn’t provide, we diverted our attention, and finances, elsewhere.  Basically, we took the money we would’ve used to re-sign Bay and used it to land Lackey.  Who will play left field? Mike Cameron, who signed a two-year deal worth about fifteen million, which would probably have amounted to less than one year’s worth of Bay’s salary.  So Cameron and Lackey were basically a package deal.  We spent so much money on Lackey, we didn’t even have enough left over to sign Holliday, so we had to make do.  And I personally would rather have Lackey and Cameron than Bay for five years.  There are two ways to win: pitching and offense.  Right now the Sox have both.  Without Bay, our offense will take a hit, but Lackey will make up for that in pitching.

Besides, Cameron has his advantages.  He’s ridiculously consistent; no matter what team he’s on or league he’s in, he’ll give you around twenty homers, eighty RBIs, a .250-ish average, and an OPS in the neighborhood of .800.  And he’s patient; he saw 3.96 pitches per plate appearance last year, almost identical to Bay’s 3.99.  He may not steal as often as he used to, but he’s still better than Bay on the basepaths.  And let’s not forget one of his most significant assets: his defense.  Cameron is a phenomenal outfielder.  While it is true that he’s played out his career in center (three Gold Gloves in that position), ability is ability, and if we move him to left, I think he’ll adapt nicely.  Either way, we need the defense.  Let’s face it: we weren’t exactly excelling in that area last year, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone the significance of good defense in our win in 2004.  I’m just saying.  Defense, at this point, seems to be the name of our offensive game.

Incidentally, Roy Halladay is also off the market, gone to Philly just like he probably would have had JP Ricciardi been able to hammer out a deal at the trade deadline.  Cliff Lee goes to Seattle to complete the deal.  Also, the Lowell trade is currently stalling due to Lowell’s thumb injury.  Really? The thumb injury? The hip isn’t the issue; it’s the thumb that’s holding up the deal? It’s not even an injury; it’s a sprain! And he started all three games of the ALDS with it! Along this vein, talks with Adrian Gonzalez yielded nothing; the Padres don’t want to deal him before the season starts.  Rest assured, however, that if they decide to shop him, calls will be made.  Meanwhile, it turns out that Beltre wouldn’t be such a bad alternative.  His defense is solid as a rock, not to mention the fact that his production on the road is through the roof compared to Lowell’s.  And finally, the 2010 season starts with and in Boston.  The first game of the season will take place on April 4 at Fenway; we’ll play the Yanks.  This is going to be epic, even if the schedule won’t be.  We have a game on Sunday night, then two days off, then the rest of that series with New York in Boston and then it’s off to Kansas City (who has the All-Star Game in 2012 which, try as I might, I just can’t seem to forget).  To make matters worse, it’ll be broadcast on ESPN2.  I would be so much more annoyed if I weren’t so psyched that we’re inching closer and closer to next season.  You know baseball’s around the corner when you started talking about opening schedules.

The Bruins lost to the Flyers yesterday.  Great.  We’re now four points behind the Sabres.  On the upside, the Pats bested the Panthers with a cool 20-10 score.  On a different note, I’ll be taking a break for about two weeks.  Aside from the Flyers game, life is good in Boston sports.  Life is most definitely good.

Sox Tea Party

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