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Posts Tagged ‘Vancouver Canucks’

Truck Day has officially come and gone! That’s the first sign that next season  can’t be too far away.  It’s been a long, cold winter, and the long, cold winter is still going on, but at least we know that things are starting to stir down in Florida.  Nothing gets you excited about the end of winter like equipment heading south for Spring Training!

Papi wants a multi-year deal.  No news there.  That’s what every player wants.  The challenge is that it has to make sense for the team as a whole as well.  This year we will welcome Jerry Remy back into the booth for the season.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Isles, 6-3, and the Panthers, 6-2, before losing to the Habs, 4-1.  We then shut out the Oilers, four-zip, and beat the Canucks, 3-1, and Sens, 7-2, while losing to the Blues in overtime, 3-2, before the Olympic break.

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So we went from a week of huge news to a week of basically no news.  Papi wants a one-year contract extension, and Ben is maintaining a firm but low-key presence at the Winter Meetings.  And that’s pretty much it.

In other news, the B’s beat the Flames, 2-1, and Oilers, 4-2, but the Canucks gave us a beating yesterday, 6-2.  And the Pats dropped a close nailbiter to the Dolphins, 24-20.  I’d really like to have a landslide win.  We haven’t had one of those in a while.

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The coaching staff has now officially been finalized.  Tim Bogar is the bench coach.  Jerry Royster will take his place as the third base coach.  Alex Ochoa is the first base coach.  Dave Magadan will remain the hitting coach, and Gary Tuck will remain the bullpen coach.  Our new pitching coach is Bob McClure.  The Royals let him go after finishing in fourth place in their division last season, and then we hired him as a minor league instructor and special assignment scout.  Obviously on the surface, this doesn’t exactly bode well.  However, it’s worth mentioning that his professional profile is similar to John Farrell’s; like Farrell, he’s been a player as well as a coach, and he has a knack for evaluating talent.  But by now I have learned how fruitless it is to delve analytically into anything that Bobby V. does before I actually see how it shapes up in action.  Regarding McClure, I’m not sure I know what to think at this point.

We now officially have a closer, and it turns out that it isn’t Mark Melancon.  Melancon will obviously be in the mix, but we traded first baseman Miles Head, right-handed pitcher Raul Alcantara, and, yes, even Josh Reddick to the A’s for outfielder Ryan Sweeney and, more importantly, Andrew Bailey.  Bailey has a career 2.07 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with seventy-five saves and only nine blown saves in his three seasons in the Majors.  He has been injured, which restricted him to less than fifty innings in his last two seasons.  But because we expect him to own the ninth only, I don’t see a problem.  The Bailey-Melancon one-two punch shows considerable promise.  Like Paps, Bailey tends to induce his fair share of fly balls, so Melancon serves as a nice complement to that; in his career, Melancon has induced double the amount of ground balls as fly balls, and only three pitchers last season had a better ratio.

So, to put it lightly, he’ll do.  Now let’s look at Sweeney.  His hitting stats obviously don’t match up well with Reddick’s, but he’s got a solid OBP and he can play all three outfield positions, which we know is incredibly useful.  However, I’m still not happy about that part of the trade because, while Sweeney has obvious upsides, he technically doesn’t even come close to Reddick.  I mean, Reddick has the makings of a Major League superstar.  Of course, we have to moderate that a little by accounting for the fact that he’s young yet and hasn’t seen much action relatively speaking, but still.  I see this trade as addressing our short-term needs rather than considering our long-term needs.  There is a time and place for doing so, but I’m not convinced that this was it.  Again, we’ll have to wait and see.  It’s important to remember that this is Ben’s team now, and he deserves a chance to prove that he has as much foresight as anybody.

Ryan Kalish will miss the start of the season; he just had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum.  In all likelihood, so will Jenks, who had another surgery.

The Yankees signed Okajima to a minor league deal; oh, how the mighty have fallen.  The Cubs hired Bill Buckner as a minor league hitting coach.  I hope Theo has fun with that.  Incidentally, in case you didn’t notice, that was sarcastic.

In other news, the Pats have been on an absolute tear.  We beat the Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins, and Bills.  We’ll see if we can convert that into anything of note when it counts.  The B’s have been similarly dominating; we beat the Habs, Panthers (eight-zip shutout), and Coyotes; we dropped our game against the Stars.  We womped the Devils and Flames (seriously, a nine-zip shutout) and lost to Vancouver in a very eventful matchup in which Vancouver was obviously trying to make a statement.  I’d say it was grasping; they may have beaten us by a goal, but the last time I checked, we are still the reigning Stanley Cup champions.  The benches cleared, though.  Five Canucks charged Shawn Thornton for defending a hit teammate, and then all the gloves dropped.  Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault says we’re too physical, probably because the Canucks can’t match us.  By the way, Milan Lucic did indeed take the ice legally on a line change.

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Well, we’re more or less right back to where we started.  We’re only half a game out of first place.  This past two-week stretch didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped; I thought that Interleague would power us way past the Yanks for good.  Apparently not.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s recap.

After we swept the Yankees, we played the Jays, who we also swept before heading into a day off.  We won the first game by a score of 5-1; Buchholz pitched a stellar outing and the first third of the lineup delivered in a big way.  We absolutely crushed them the following day, 16-4; Lackey’s mediocrity didn’t matter in the face of eighteen hits, five of which were for extra bases and two of which were three-run homers, one each for Tek and Papi.  The 14-1 series closer was just as decisive; Lester pitched eight innings of one-run ball, and we hit six doubles and four homers.

We completely failed to carry any of that momentum into our series opener with the Rays; if only we could have transferred some runs from those games to that one.  We were shut out, four-zip.  Beckett returned the following day to pitch a complete-game shutout, his finest performance of the season, hands down.  In fact, take away a ridiculous and nonsensical hit down the third-base line that was barely a hit at all, and he’d have had a perfect game.  Not a no-hitter.  A perfect game.  He did not issue a single walk during those nine innings.  He was absolutely remarkably brilliant.  It was the first one-hitter of his career, and in retrospect, that was one of the most infuriating hits I have ever witnessed in my entire baseball-watching life.  I really can’t stress that enough.  We ended up winning the series; Buchholz pitched a short but ultimately sweet five innings, and our four runs were enough to handle the Rays’ two.

We then went home to take on the Brewers.  We crushed, 10-4; Lackey, Gonzalez, and Papi delivered solid performances.  We lost the next day, 4-2; Lester just didn’t have it.  But we crushed in the rubber game, scoring four times as many runs to win it, 12-3; Wake pitched masterfully for eight innings.

Then the Padres came by and we crushed again, 14-5.  Andrew Miller started that one; he didn’t pick up the win, but he did have some flashes of brilliance.  We lost the series by dropping the last two.  First, we lost, 5-4; Aceves didn’t have it.  Then, we lost, 5-1; Lackey really didn’t have it.  He didn’t even make it through the fourth.

Then we had another off day, and we are now in Pittsburgh playing the Pirates.  On Friday, we lost again, 3-1.  Lester didn’t have it, and the lineup was obviously out of whack due to the fact that we were in a National League park, so the pitchers had to hit.  On Saturday, we lost again, 6-4, despite three long balls.  Thankfully we preserved a shred of dignity on Sunday with a win, 4-2, to close out the series.  Miller pitched decently, and we only had one extra-base hit; naturally it helped that the Pirates made four errors, since all but one of our runs were unearned.

Youk and Beckett got sick.  Drew has a bruised left eye.  Lowrie, Crawford, and Buchholz hit the DL.  Jenks is still on it.  Paps was given a two-game suspension as the resolution of the brawl earlier this month.  Gonzalez tallied his one thousandth career hit, a triple against the Brewers.  Ellsbury garnered American League Player of the Week honors.  Our nine-game hitting streak that ended with our series opener with the Rays was the longest winning streak in the Major Leagues to date.

When we won, we played really, really well.  It’s just that we shouldn’t have lost to those Interleague teams.  The health issues are concerning, but the best you can do is hope they’ll end quickly so that everything can return to normal and we can get back to steamrolling over the opposition.  Right now, we’re in a good place.  I don’t think we’ll be phased by any amount of health issues after what happened last year.  Would I have liked to head into Interleague firing on all cylinders? Obviously.  But at least we’d been playing easier teams.  Now, though, we’ve got the Phillies.  That series will obviously be pitched as a World Series preview.  More importantly, we’re just going to have to keep our heads down and play our game.  You have to win first in order to get to October.

In other news, for the first time since 1972, the Boston Bruins have brought the Stanley Cup to what with this championship has truly become, in every sense and on every front, Title Town.  On June 15, 2011, down to Game Seven, the Boston Bruins became the champions of the entire National Hockey League.  The final score was 4-0.  A thirty-seven-save shutout by Tim Thomas, winner of the 2011 Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies.  Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each scored two goals, the last of which was an empty-netter.  There was a victory parade.  There was an appearance on the Today Show and at Fenway Park.  But it really started to sink in when Zdeno Chara, winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award, hoisted the cup.  He picked it up like it weighed nothing, and you knew every single Boston fan could see it, and not because he’s so tall.  To see that cup being held by a Bruin in Vancouver was just incredible.  It was at once unbelievable and thoroughly believable.  The glory-basking is epic.  It was one of the greatest moments in any Boston sports fan’s Boston sports life.  Congratulations to the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins! Welcome home to Title Town!

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Last night wasn’t Wake’s finest hour.  Collectively, though, it was a pretty fine hour for the team as a whole.  Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the one and only possessor of first place in the AL East division.  We beat the Yankees again, so the worst we can do now is win the series.  The best we can do, of course, is sweep.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Last night had plenty to recap.

As I said, Wake wasn’t feeling it.  He gave up five runs on five hits while walking three and striking out three.  He threw ninety-one pitches, fifty-six for strikes.  He made his exit in the sixth, leaving behind one out and two on.  Aceves came on and loaded the bases.  Then he allowed an inherited runner to score.  At that point we had a three-run lead that was looking pretty shaky.  It took him six pitches, but Aceves finally got Derek Jeter to ground into a double play to end the inning.  Crisis averted.  He later gave up a run of his own in the bottom of the ninth.  Wake picked up the win, and Aceves picked up a three-and-two-thirds-inning save.  The final score was 11-6.  We are seven and one against the Yanks this year, we’ve won all of our last six contests against them, and we’ve won five of those six on enemy soil.  Not bad for a team that started out in last place.  And those two, Wake and Aceves, are model team players, given the way they’ve pitched in when Lackey and Dice-K were on the DL.  So the whole game was just a great one to watch.

The game started out innocently enough.  Ellsbury singled and scored when Gonzalez grounded out.  Youk walked after that.  And that’s right around the time when you start thinking about how totally awesome it would be if Papi hit a home run.  So that’s what he did.  He launched a two-run shot into right center field.  Papi had been fed a steady diet of pitches away to that point.  But then he got a great one right down the middle.  Why pitchers think they can throw fastballs down the middle right by us is beyond me.  He didn’t flip his bat this time, but trust me, he was thinking it, and he was thinking it loudly.

The game only got better from there.

Scutaro singled to open the second inning, stole second base, moved to third on a throwing error, and scored on a sac fly by Drew.  After AJ Burnett loaded the bases with an intentional walk in the fourth, Tek hit into the force out as planned, but a run still scored.  Ellsbury doubled in another after that, and Pedroia singled in another.  His hit just barely cleared Jeter’s glove.

Wake gave up a homer to A-Rod in the fourth, and they added three more runs in the fifth.  We got one of them back in the sixth; three walks were issued in the bottom of the sixth alone, and one of them scored a run.  Seriously, there are few things more humiliating than a pitcher walking in a run.

The Yankees added another run in the sixth.  And then nobody scored anymore until the ninth.  Going into the inning, the Yankees were down by only three, and that just didn’t seem like enough to hold them.  I think Crawford and Drew heard it too because they both hit home runs in that frame.  Crawford went first with a solo blast on a changeup down and in.  Scutaro doubled after that, so it was even better when who but JD Drew smashed a towering plast into the bullpen.  It was a good thing, too; Aceves would allow his run in the bottom of the inning, which would trim our lead.  But only by one.

We still won by five.  We’re still on the verge of increasing our first-place lead to two games.  And we scored eleven runs against the Yankees.  Life is most excellent.

In other news, the Stanley Cup finals is now even at two apiece.  The Bruins shutout the Canucks last night, four-zip.  Tim Thomas made thirty-eight saves en route.

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Watching Lester work recently has really been painful.  It gets better every time he goes out there, but you can just tell that he’s laboring with every pitch.  There are no health reports that would suggest that there’s anything physically wrong with him.  For whatever reason, things aren’t coming easily.  There are times when watching his cut fastball whiz by a hitter staring in disbelief as it slices the air in front of him is a thing of beauty.  But these days are not one of those times.  These days, Lester is lucky if he gets through five innings with minimal damage.  These days are daily grinds.  Stretches like this occur in the career of every pitcher, but watching an ace go through it is just sad.

In light of that, we were going to take whatever we could get from Lester.  Fortunately, he managed to deliver just enough to get us through.  Which of course was made all the more satisfying by the fact that we were playing the Evil Empire.  (In case you haven’t noticed, most positives of the game are more satisfying when playing the Evil Empire.)

Lester fired off 112 pitches over six innings; one positive that may result from this stretch is increased stamina and durability since he’s throwing a ton of pitches every time he goes out there.  He allowed three runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out five with the help of sixty-six strikes overall.  He didn’t give up any home runs; he just generally doesn’t have as much life on his cut fastball as he does when he’s more effective.  And that means that he misses spots and provides opportunities for constructive contact.  It’s not like he made one big mistake that allowed a hitter to go yard; he just made several small mistakes that resulted in quite a bit of hits.  That and he was inefficient.  He threw thirty-three pitches in the first inning alone and hit two batters but gave up only one run.  His best inning, hands-down, was obviously the third, when he secured all three outs using only six pitches, four for strikes.  That was thanks in part to Drew’s phenomenal leaping catch to end the inning.  Now that’s efficiency.  I guess those two innings balance out.  But the bottom line is that, while this outing obviously could have been much, much worse, it sure wasn’t his best.  You could say that the mark of a true ace is to go through stretches like this and still get wins.  And that’s what Lester did last night.  The final score was 6-4.  He’s won his last five starts against New York, our only pitcher to do that since Reggie Cleveland did it in the 1970s.  He’s won his last four starts against New York in New York, our only pitcher to do that since Roger Clemens did it in the 1980s.

It was a fun game.  Obviously beating the Yankees is always fun, but it was also just good baseball.  Ellsbury led off the series with a solo shot on a hanging breaking ball that would’ve been a ball had he left it alone.  Instead, it ended up in the seats in right field, and Ellsbury ended up crossing the plate.  It was his fourth leadoff homer and first since 2008.  I would say that’s the ideal way to start a series.

The fun continued with a five-pitch walk to Pedroia, followed by a triple by Gonzalez to bring him in and a sac fly by Youk to bring Gonzalez in.  Salty walked to lead off the second and scored on a double by Pedroia.  Nobody scored again until the fifth, which Gonzalez led off with an intentional walk.  Goodbye, Freddy Garcia.  Then Papi said hello to Luis Ayala by unleashing on a fastball and planted it in right field as well.  He just uncorked a massive swing on it like it was no big deal.  He just brought that bat all the way around and tossed it away like it was a toothpick.  There was no doubt the minute that ball left the bat that it was going out.  Joe Girardi took issue with Papi’s post-swing bat flip, but he’s a slugger, and that’s just what sluggers do.

The Yanks got two back in the fifth.  Jenks reinjured himself in the seventh; he did something to his back on his fourth pitch of the night and is day-to-day.  Albers came in for the rest of the seventh, and Bard came in for the eighth.  Paps allowed a run in the ninth, at which point I started to feel really uneasy about the fact that Ellsbury ended the top of the ninth by trying to stretch a double into a triple, but he held on for his two hundredth save.  And it’s only taken him 359 appearances to get there.  He has reached that milestone faster than anyone history.

Other thing worthy of note are the fact that Paps is appealing a three-game suspension he received for his conduct during Saturday’s game (which means that he’ll be able to pitch in this series), Scutaro is back from the DL and Lowrie’s shoulder is hurt, and Buchholz will pitch Friday instead of today due to a sore back, which has apparently been a problem for the entire season so far.  And last but not least, Papi was the American League’s Player of the Week.  During that week, he batted .545 with four doubles, two homers, and six RBIs.  Crawford had won the honor the previous week.

We are now tied with them for first place.  That’s why this series is huge.  We want to beat the Yankees whenever we can and preferably as frequently as possible, but now would definitely be the time to do it.  This series could put us in sole possession of first place definitively.

In other news, the Bruins decimated the Canucks, 8-1.  We scored four goals in the second period and four more in the third, and Tim Thomas made forty spectacular saves.  The terrible news is that Nathan Horton is out for the rest of the playoffs due to a severe concussion he received in the first period from Aaron Rome, who deserved every second of his five-minute major, game misconduct, and longest suspension in Stanley Cup finals history.

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You will see in short order that the title of this post couldn’t be dripping with more sarcasm, but you will also see eventually that somehow it’s strangely appropriate.  Yesterday’s game was nothing short of excruciating.  We won, but it was not easy.  That was one of the most difficult games we’ve played this year.  The whole monstrosity took five hours and seventeen minutes.  That means that if you were driving from Boston to New York for the series opener on Tuesday and were listening to a complete replay of yesterday’s game on the radio, you could make that drive within the span of that game and would still probably have to sit in the car once you got there to finish it.

Well, let’s start from the beginning.  I suggest you get comfortable.  It’s going to be a long one.

The story starts with Beckett.  Shoddy changeup, shoddy curveball, shoddy cutter.  Brilliant two-seam, brilliant four-seam.  Game-high twenty-three pitches in the sixth; the only other time he came close was twenty-one in the second.  So his efficiency was there.  He varied speeds, he attacked the zone.  And yet he was saddled with his sixth no-decision of the season.

Beckett was removed after giving up a walk and a single in the seventh.  All told, he pitched six innings, gave up three runs on four hits, walked three, and struck out four.  He fired 102 pitches, fifty-eight for strikes.  He made a wild pitch and hit a batter.  So technically it wasn’t his best night, but it was far from his worst.

We scored first.  With two out in the first, Gonzalez launched a changeup into the Monster.  The pitch stayed up, and his timing was perfect, even given the wind.

Starting in the bottom of the second, every inning was one-two-three and nobody scored until the fifth, when we added another run.  Crawford singled and scored on a single by Drew.  In the sixth, Beckett let the A’s tie the game.  After inducing a flyout to start it, he hit that batter, gave up a walk on four pitches, and made his wild pitch.  A subsequent single brought in two.

We put ourselves ahead the very next chance we got.  In the sixth, we scored three.  Ellsbury singled, stole second, and scored on a single by Pedroia.  Gonzalez struck out.  Pedroia scored on a double by Youk.  Papi grounded out.  And Youk scored on a single by Crawford.

Albers replaced Beckett in the seventh and allowed one of his inherited runners to score.  He was then replaced by Hottovy.

Both teams went down in order in the next two half-innings, thanks in his half to Bard.  In the eighth, we picked up two more; Gonzalez singled, Papi doubled and was replaced by Reddick as a pinch-runner, and both scored on a double by Crawford.

So at this point, we were the very proud owners of a four-run lead.  The rest of the game should have been a walk in the park (pun intended).  But could Paps let us half our easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy win? Not in the least.  Not even remotely in the least.  That ninth inning was an unmitigated disaster.

He gave up a single and a walk.  It took him seven pitches to notch the first out in the inning, an eventual strikeout.  Then of course Pedroia had to make a fielding error, his third of the season, which allowed Coco Crisp of all people to reach base and a run to score.  The ball had all the makings of the beginning of a routine double play that would end the game promptly with a win for us.  Pedroia had to move toward second base to corral the ball anyway.  But he didn’t.  Instead – and these are words that no member of Red Sox Nation will ever feel comfortable hearing – the ball went through his legs, and the game continued.  I think Paps’s reaction to that – crouching and covering his head in complete disbelief – pretty much says it all.

If Paps had rallied and ended the inning there, it wouldn’t have been his fault, and we still would have won.  But it didn’t.  He gave up a double that brought in another.  And that’s when Tek lost it.  He turned around and unleashed a verbal storm on home plate umpire Tony Randazzo, who in Tek’s eyes had been making questionable calls that inning that greatly affected the game.  It was the fifth ejection of his career and his first since 2009.  It was strange seeing him let loose like that.  He’s usually so composed.  But the way the game was going was bound to get to someone, and it wasn’t finished yet.

Salty came in to catch, and Paps allowed two more runs to score on a single that deflected at third.  And then Paps lost it.  Randazzo called a strike on Paps’s first pitch to Ryan Sweeney, but after receiving the ball, he sort of glared at him for a few seconds and looked away.  So Randazzo started to make his way toward the mound.  Salty made a move to keep Randazzo away and go to the mound to keep Paps stationary, but Paps would have none of it.  Randazzo started talking, and Paps said something to Salty and then just went right past him and got right up in Randazzo’s face.  Thankfully, Paps didn’t touch him.  Tito had to come out and get in the way.  Paps was ejected for the first time in his career.  It’s funny; you would think that, with his personality, he would have had more, but he knows how to keep his composure when he needs to.

Jenks came in after that and gave up a single but followed with back-to-back K’s.  He pitched the tenth and was replaced by Aceves in the eleventh.  Aceves gave up a walk, a double, and a sac fly.  So naturally it was do-or-die for us in the bottom of the inning.  Lowrie struck out swinging.  Drew struck out swinging.  Salty doubled.  And it was Ellsbury with the game-saving hit, a double that brought Salty home to preserve the tie at eight apiece.  Without that hit, we would have lost, plain and simple.

Aceves pitched a one-two-three twelfth and thirteenth.  He put two on base in the fourteenth.

Youk flied out to open the bottom of the inning.  Cameron did the same.  Then Crawford doubled, and Lowrie was intentionally walked.  And of all the batters in our entire lineup, the one who had to come up at that moment was JD Drew.  Two outs, bottom of the fourteenth, the game on the line, and you have stepping up to the plate a batter who had struck out four times in his previous four at-bats.  He watched a fastball go by.  Strike one.  And we’re all thinking of his called strikeout that ended the ALDS for us in 2008.  Fortunately, it was not to be.  His next pitch was a fastball right down the middle, and he hit a single! It was so simple! One single, one run, one win! 9-8! Cue the walkoff mob! After all that, it was absolutely glorious.

Youk went two for five with two doubles.  Gonzalez went three for five with his homer.  Ellsbury and Crawford both went four for a whopping seven.  And Drew, the unlikely man of the hour, went two for seven.  But it was enough.

I am convinced that, if there were any team that could eke out a win under those circumstances, it would have been us and nobody else.  You have to have matchless grit to play more than five hours of baseball, roll out the entire bullpen, lose two players through ejections, give up a lead, come back, and then finally win for good.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you separate the men from the dirt dogs.  Plain and simple.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Canucks, 3-2.  Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic forced sudden death, but we lost there.

Boston Globe Staff/Jonathan Wiggs

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