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Posts Tagged ‘Zdeno Chara’

Well, say hello to our new manager: Bobby Valentine.  I seriously can not believe this is happening.  If you told me when Tito left that Bobby V. would be his replacement, I think I seriously would have looked at you like you were literally clinically insane.  I hope he doesn’t manage like he broadcasts, that’s for sure.  It’s either going to be really good or really bad; with Bobby V., there is no in-between.

We interviewed six candidates, and Valentine was obviously the most experienced.  He managed the Rangers from 1986-1992 and the Mets from 1996-2002 and hasn’t managed since.  He’s sixty-one years old, he’s spent time in Japan twice, and he’s been killing time by working as an analyst for ESPN.  His managerial winning percentage is .510; as a benchmark, Tito’s was .529.  He professes to be open-minded, and he is touted as a brilliant strategist.

Now down to the nitty-gritty.  In fifteen seasons of managing, although he staged quite the turnaround in New York and made it deep into the postseason, appeared in the World Series only once.  He functions like he’s a one-man show and is something of a know-it-all by his own admission.  On a good day, he could run a ballclub like a Navy Seal team, but on a bad day, he’s a conniver and a manipulator, and he’ll explode on players publicly yet passively by going to the press, and the media will be left with the tall task of decoding it, which of course we know they all thoroughly enjoy.  He’s got a personality, and he isn’t afraid to show it to anyone who’ll look or listen.  Do we want a manager like this for a team that apparently includes some players who have this same exact problem? It’s unclear to say the least, as is whether Valentine is even remotely equipped to provide the kind of constructive leadership that prevents chicken-eating and beer-drinking in the clubhouse since, when he left the Mets in 2002, that team was doing things that make chicken-eating and beer-drinking seem like chores.  Fundamentally, we were all told that this managerial search was dragging on and on and on because it was important to find the right fit.  This implies that personality is crucial, and to me it seems unlikely that someone of Valentine’s experience and age would somehow undergo a drastic personality change that would eliminate these aspects of his character that seem, at least superficially, to be at odds with the manager we’ve all been picturing in the meantime.

And how about the fact that it seems like Larry completely overruled, overshadowed, and overpowered Ben on this? Of course there’s really no way to know since none of us were actually there.  But it is true that, initially, Ben wanted to hire Sveum.  I am pretty sure, therefore, that Sveum would have been a great manager in Boston.  And I think he got a pretty significant vote of confidence when Theo hired Sveum instead.  As I’ve already discussed, Ben introduced Sveum to the brass; the brass introduced Valentine to Ben.  So Larry needs to make absolutely sure that he didn’t just mess up royally, because if that happens, the team will be terrible, Red Sox Nation and I will be exceptionally infuriated, and Ben will earn a well-deserved opportunity to say, “I told you so.” Did I mention that Red Sox Nation and I would be exceptionally infuriated? There is absolutely no margin for error here.  Larry has his manager.  Now it’s time for him to step back and let Ben do his job.

Here’s something we can all agree on: this is the equivalent of a contract year for Valentine in terms of where he is in his career.  This is the end of the road.  After this, I think we can pretty much all agree that it’s over for him, no matter which way it goes.  So it’s in his best interest to go out with a positive bang, which is obviously fine by me, if I do say so myself.  He is number forty-four in our long and illustrious history.  He has a chance to leave his mark.  All he has to do is come close to what Tito did, both in the clubhouse and on the field, and he’ll already work out infinitely better than we all thought he would.  He also has to remember that, you know, this is Boston we’re talking about.  He’s not in Queens anymore.  We’re used to certain standards here, standards of on-the-field performance and off-the-field conduct, and not everything he did or didn’t do in Flushing is going to fly in our town.

So here’s what I’m saying.  I’m saying that I’m glad to hear that, on Thursday’s press conference, he said that he’s honored, humbled, and excited to be our manager.  Congratulations, Bobby V., and welcome to Boston.  We’re glad to have you because, well, we need a manager and we’ve been told you’re a good fit.  So we look forward to you showing us that you’re a good fit by adapting to your new setting and applying your inarguable shrewdness.  Just do us all a favor and don’t forget where you are.  Also, you’ve got some big shoes to fill, so I suggest you get cracking.  Get to work, and when spring rolls around, get out there and do us proud!

And now that we have our manager, for better or worse, we can start focusing on our plethora of other issues.  It’s almost certain that the front office was waiting to hire the manager before going after players since the manager has some input into who he wants and doesn’t want, although I feel strongly that something at some point this offseason should be Ben’s decision and Ben’s alone so that he can get a jump-start on his newfound, well-deserved authority.  Valentine professes to love sabermetrics, as do we all, so that’s a good start.  Look for Michael Cuddyer to be on the radar.  Papi is already very much on the radar; Valentine went down to the Dominican Republic to participate in his charity golf event and, oh, by the way, tell him to sign with us.

DeMarlo Hale may be hired by Baltimore as their third base coach, so we may have to add that to our ever-growing list.  Another hire comes in, another hire goes out.  Wake wants to pitch one more year, and Pedro Martinez plans to announce his retirement officially, as opposed to his unofficial retirement in which he has been living for the past three years.

In other news, the Pats bested the Eagles, 38-20.  The B’s beat the Leafs twice this past week.  That means we’re undefeated against Toronto this year.  Congratulations to Zdeno Chara on his well-deserved receipt of the Champion’s Award, which honors the work he’s done with Children’s Hospital Boston.

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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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That totally wasn’t as sweet as I thought.  I was expecting Baltimore to roll over.  I wasn’t expecting us to roll over.  It just goes to show you the importance of quality starting pitching.  Which we basically had.  It just so happens that their starting pitching was more quality.  Dice-K pitching back-to-back gems? The Orioles sporting quality starting pitching? Seriously, what is going on?

I can’t explain the first part of that, but I sure can explain the second part.  The Orioles surge in April.  That’s about the extent of any surge they could possibly be looking forward to all season long.  May is when things really start to get organized.

When I say that we basically had quality starting pitching, I mean that in the most basic of senses: runs.  Technically, we didn’t even have that, but I’d settle for four runs allowed over six and two-thirds innings.  That’s one more than three runs, the upper run limit in the definition of a quality start.  That wasn’t my problem.  Buchholz’s hit total was my problem.  He walked two, he struck out five, but he allowed twelve hits.  Twelve.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s a career high right there.  The way things are going right now, he definitely did inherit all of Lester’s April badness, and based on recent performance alone, he should be our fifth starter.  The Buchholz we’re seeing right now is a far, far cry from the Buchholz we saw last year.

He threw 104 pitches, sixty-nine for strikes.  So somehow, despite his low strikeout total and sky-high hit total, he managed to maintain a respectable level of efficiency.  I suspect that had a lot to do with the fact that two of his traditionally most effective offspeeds, his changeup and his curveball, were deadly.  His four-seam, which he threw most often, was decent.  His cutter wasn’t so good, and his two-seam was even worse.  He threw less than five two-seams all night.  And between his release point and the way home plate umpire Lance Barksdale was set up, he threw almost no pitches whatsoever to the right of the strike zone; everything on the right was at worst right on the line.

The game began with such promise.  He needed only seven pitches to clear the first, and it looked like he would cruise from there.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  He had to throw twenty-four pitches in the second inning alone.  And suddenly he would find himself facing the batter who represented the last out in the inning and unable to put him away.  So the inning would go on with a runner on base, and he’d have to start all over again with another batter.  He allowed his fourth and final run on a sac fly right before he was pulled in the seventh in favor of Okajima, who ended the inning by inducing a groundout.  Albers pitched the final inning.

He can not command his offspeed pitches, he can not put batters away, he can not maintain efficiency, and it is therefore no coincidence that he has yet to record a win this year.  But he gets better and better with every start and still, somehow, despite all the hits and both walks, he managed to keep the team in it.  The way we wiped the floor with the Angels last week should indicate that we are perfectly capable of eating four runs for breakfast on any given day.

We didn’t even come close to doing that.  Our lone run scored in the fourth.  Pedroia led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a groundout, stole third, and came home on a sac fly by Youk.  That’s it.  That was all we could manage.  That single by Pedroia was actually our first of the game.  He finished the day with that single, a walk, a stolen base, and an awesome diving grab to end the fourth inning.  He dove to his left and made the throw while he was still for the most part prone on the ground.  And that was as productive as any member of our lineup got.  We collected half as many hits as they did, we left eight men on base, we had only five chances with runners in scoring position, and we did nothing with each and every one of them.  Only two walks.  Only two extra-base hits, one by Ellsbury and one by Gonzalez.  And no multi-hit games.  A far cry indeed from last week.  Tek led off the fifth with a single, Ellsbury doubled, Pedroia had his walk, and with two out Gonzalez grounded out on a pitch he should have crushed for a base hit.  That was how bad it was.  He may have made that spectacular leap to corral what would have been a base hit in the first, but he did not own clutch at the plate.

So we lost, 4-1.  For Baltimore, there was nothing flashy, but evidently it was enough.  It should not even remotely have been enough.  But it was enough.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Habs, 2-1.  So there’s one more game to play tonight.  At home.  No margin for error, but we played an entire season of excellent hockey to excel in this moment.  We got it.  And Zdeno Chara was nominated for the Norris Trophy and deserves to win it.

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Obviously, we’re still waiting around.  Still not much happening.

The Rays signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.  That was exciting for all of five minutes.  That team lost almost all the reasons why they were ever good in the first place, and then they went out and decided to plug those holes with a couple of has-beens.  They signed both of them for seven millions dollars.  Total.  As in, both of them together cost seven million dollars.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  I don’t think I seriously thought I’d see the day when these two guys would ever be ready to admit that they’re in the process of being done.  Needless to say, neither concerns me.  They’ll get a nice crowd at their home games, and they’ll get some publicity, but ultimately I just have to laugh.

Speaking of contracts, this is something you won’t believe, and the fact that something like this is so unbelievable is a testament to how bad things have gotten in the business of baseball.  But here it is: Gil Meche signed a fifty-five-million-dollar contract during the 2007 offseason and just upped and retired from baseball due to shoulder issues.  He just walked away from twelve million dollars.  It would have been easy for him to stick it out to collect the money.  We see pitchers do this all the time.  They spend a little time in the bullpen, they spend a lot of time on the DL, eventually the season ends, they finish out their contract, and then they retire.  But no.  Not only did Meche take the high road and admit the reality of his age and condition, but he also said that he retired when he did because he wouldn’t deserve the rest of his pay if he finished out his career like that.  It wouldn’t be fair to the team, it wouldn’t be fair to the fans, and it wouldn’t be fair to himself; he said he just wasn’t comfortable the moment he stopped being able to actually earn his contract.  He didn’t want to freeload off of an organization that had already paid him handsomely for his life’s work.  And just like that, baseball loses another class act because he’s a class act.  That is one guy after Mike Lowell’s heart.  We may not believe it, but we understand it.  Gil Meche, baseball fans everywhere salute you.

Sean McDonough, who did play-by-play for us from 1988 to 2004, and Nomar, who did almost everything for us from 1994 to 2004, will play “key roles” in baseball broadcasts on ESPN this year.  I have no doubt that they’ll be unbiased, but at least now we won’t have to deal with bias the other way.  We know McDonough.  We know Nomar and his analytical abilities got off to a pretty shaky start.  But more importantly, we also know that Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are long gone.  And no matter who the replacements are, that is something worth smiling about.

In case you haven’t noticed, as I’ve been saying every week, these past few weeks haven’t been too interesting, baseball-wise.  That’s because there are very few questions to answer.  We know who our starting shortstop is.  We know what the lineup will likely be.  We even know, more or less, who will be on the bench and who will be called up because all of last season was basically a showcase of the best our farm system has to offer.  Luckily, we are slowly but steadily approaching pitchers and catchers.  Slowly but steadily.  Hang in there; not too much longer.

In other news, the Kings shut us out on Monday, but we beat the Panthers on Wednesday, and we sent three to the All-Star Game! Chara, Thomas, and Seguin all went and participated in SuperSkills, and Chara and Thomas played in the game.  Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom captained this year, and they actually got to choose their own teams, so Chara and Seguin both played for Staal against Thomas, who played for Lidstrom, which was strange but interesting.  Thomas actually skated in the Fastest Skater competition.  His time of nineteen seconds obviously lost, but it was just funny.  Chara played in the Skills Challenge Relay, but his team lost.  Chara also lost to Thomas in the Elimination Shootout.  It’s all good, though.  Definitely all good.  Because Chara still reigns supreme in his area of expertise: Hardest Shot.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new record! 105.9 miles per hour was the winning speed.  That, my friends, is about as hard a shot as you’re going to get, and the only harder shot you’d ever encounter is from him anyway.  Seguin posted 97.1 miles per hour in that event; not bad for a rookie.  But seriously.  After a point, you just can’t see the puck when it travels that fast.  I would not want to be on the receiving end of one of those.  And finally, Lidstrom’s team won.  By a goal.  The final score was 11-10.  That’s not a hockey score; that’s a baseball score.  But that’s what happens when you feature the best of the best.  Play resumes on Tuesday with the Canes.  Hopefully we crush.

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That was the most infuriating regular season loss I have ever experienced.  It was completely unjust.  It was completely unfair.  And I will even be so bold as to make the claim that it was completely improbably; the Marlins just got excruciatingly lucky.  Lucky that Nolasco was on and that then we didn’t get a chance to demolish their bullpen.  After five and a half innings of play, the score of 2-1 in favor of the Marlins became official, and rain stopped play for the rest of the night.  They called the game.  Baseball is the only sport where you don’t have to finish a game for the score to be set down in the record books.  That makes sense when we’re slaughtering the Twins, 10-1.  That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever when we’re playing a bad National League team at home and we’re losing by a run at the halfway mark.  In what alternate universe could that possibly be presented in a logical light? I have no idea, and quite frankly I have no desire to find out.

Lester pitched five, gave up two runs on eight hits, walked none, and struck out four.  The two runs came on two long balls, one to Uggla and one to Ronny Paulino.  He just didn’t keep the ball down in the zone on those pitches.  His strength is that deadly cut fastball, and those fastballs didn’t do much of anything.

Youk hit a huge solo shot in the first.  Landed in the Monster.  I’m telling you, it’s impossible to throw a fastball by this man.  He may be in a bit of a slump now but he’ll come out of it.  Besides, he still walks, so even though his average may be taking a bit of a dip, his on-base percentage is still through the roof.  That’s all we were able to do before we were rudely interrupted by the rain and subsequently told to take a loss we probably didn’t deserve.  I firmly believe that, given more time, we had a very legitimate chance of limiting the Marlins to two runs while scoring more ourselves.

Dustin Pedroia lost an RBI from Chien-Ming Wang’s start in the Yankees series.  Major League Baseball decided to make it an error on Swisher instead of a ground-rule double.  Speaking of Pedroia, his slump is over.  Not that it was actually going to last.  And David Ortiz moved up from sixth to fifth in the batting order.  That’s a good sign.  That’s a very good sign.

So, yeah.  We lost the series finale to the Marlins.  Whatever.  It’s done, it’s over, onward and forward to the Braves.  Kenshin Kawakami at countryman Dice-K.  If Dice-K can just keep us in it, we’ll find a way to win this one.  Besides, it’s about time he had himself another win.  The man is one and four.  Our second starter is one and four.  That needs to change.  He hasn’t been solid, but once he finds his groove and establishes a rhythm for the season, we’ll be good to go.  But I’ll say this.  No matter how badly we play, and no matter how we lose, why we lose, or who we lose to, we can take comfort in the fact that we are not the New York Yankees, who just dropped two games to the Washington Nationals, worst team in baseball.  Although, technically, for just this series, that is now no longer true.  At least for this series, the Yankees are, technically and by the numbers, the worst team in baseball.  And that is most definitely something to smile about.

In other news, the Bruins cleaned up at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas last night.  Tim Thomas won the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best goaltender.  Zdeno Chara, with the fourth most goals and twelfth most points among defenders, won the Norris Trophy, awarded to the best defenseman.  Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez both won the William Jennings Trophy for each having played a minimum of twenty-five games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.  And finally, last but most certainly not least, Claude Julien won the Jack Adams Award, given to the coach of the year.  Congratulations to the boys in black ‘n’ gold! They most definitely earned it.  Why they couldn’t add the Stanley Cup to that list is completely beyond me.  Just sayin’.  They’re obviously capable, but in Boston if there’s one thing we know, it’s that sometimes these things just happen.

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What a night to be a Boston fan.  First the Bruins won to stave off elimination and live to play another day, and then the Red Sox break a tie late in the ballgame to come away with the win and take the series.  So we win the battle and the war.  Nice.  And for a while it looked like we were even going to have another Beckett-esque start.  Turns out it wasn’t quite as Beckett-esque as we’d hoped, but at this point I think we have to take what we can get.  Sad but true.  Beckett pitched six innings, gave up three runs on six hits and three walks, and struck out five.  Considering the way his starts have been going lately, that feels like a shutout to me.  Not bad.  Besides, for my Number One starter, I’ll take Beckett on his worst day over almost all other Number One starters on their best days, because you have to think long term, and that includes October, and come October there’s only one man you want out there starting a series for you, and that’s Josh Beckett.  No question about it.

Unfortunately, he got a no decision because that third run he allowed was the tying run.  Okajima pitched just under two perfect innings, Ramirez finished off the seventh, and Papelbon made the ninth interesting but ultimately got the save.  He gave up a walk and a hit, made a pickoff error, and has a steal in the background before he did any damage at all.  Then he proceeded to strike out Pena, Upton, and Crawford in order.  Why he couldn’t just start the inning that way, I don’t know.  But the bottom line is that Ramirez got the win and Paps got the save.  You might say it’s good for Paps to keep everyone on their toes, but the way this season’s going I’m on my toes enough, thank you.  Paps can go ahead and have a clean, straight save if he wants to.  But he’s still the best closer in the game.  That’s his eight save of the season.  Eight saves in eight save opportunities.  One hundred percent.  And usually that lasts for a long, long time.

We won the game, 4-3.  The Rays tied it in the sixth and we scored the winning run in the eighth, batted in by who but Jason Bay.  I think the man was born to hit in the clutch late.  A ballgame is never over, not even in the late innings, until Jason Bay’s had his final say.  And usually that amounts to him hitting for at least one bag, very commonly four bags.  Yesterday it was two bags.  Bay went two for four, and both of those hits were doubles, the latter of which coming in the eighth to plate David Ortiz and give us a permanent lead.  He also scored once.  So basically the man is awesome on all counts.  He might be in the mix for AL MVP.  Incidentally, that would be something, if Boston dominated the voting and we had three guys in the first three places.  Wow.  Anyway, Drew, Bailey, and Green batted in the other runs.  Green also had a good night, finishing two for three.

Lowell made an error.  Youk’s still out.  Dice-K pitched four shutout innings in Pawtucket.  Lopez was thankfully designated for assignment as we finally bought Daniel Bard’s contract from Pawtucket.  Let me tell you something about Daniel Bard: he’s considered our best relief prospect for a reason, and a very significant part of that reason is his fastball.  Trust me.  This is going to be fun.

So as I said we take two out of three against the Rays.  Good.  We’re gradually building up to a sweep.  We get the day off today and then it’s off to the west coast again for a series with the Angels.  First it’ll be Masterson at Weaaver.  I hope his struggles of late aren’t a permanent turn for the worse.  Either way, the sooner we’re done with the west coast, the better; this is actually our last trip out there, which is nice.  So let’s make it count.

In other news, the Bruins won.  To say they pulled out a win or that they hung on by the skin of their teeth would be one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever heard.  Because we absolutely dominated.  Even if you didn’t know the score, there is no question in your mind who won that hockey game.  The score, by the way, was 4-0.  It was Timmy Thomas’s first career playoff shutout.  Kessel scored two of those goals; would’ve been sweet if he’d had himself a hat trick but technically anything besides simply winning is icing on the cake.  Recchi also had himself a goal, and he’s the oldest Bruin ever to score in the playoffs.  Milan Lucic accounted for the fourth goal.  I have to say I was terrified when I saw Chara go down in the second period; Jussi Jokinen delivered a stick to his left shin and he stayed down for a few minutes.  And he’s not one to fool around.  He skated off on his own but didn’t start the third.  But with 19:12 left, he began his first shift of the period.  What a relief.  Then Scott Walker drew a seven-minute penalty.  No, that’s correct; a seven-minute penalty.  Two minutes for misconduct and five for fighting because Aaron Ward never dropped his gloves.  Unfortunately there were only two minutes left in the game at that point so we really couldn’t take full advantage of it, but still.  First of all it was a classless move, and second of all any penalty against the opposition lasting longer than two minutes is awesome.  Game Six on Tuesday at 7:00PM.  Let’s keep it going.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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January’s winding down, and we all know what that means: moving vans on Yawkey Way headed to Fort Myers.  I’m so stoked.  And we’ve done some good business this week.  We cut a one-year deal with Javier Lopez for $1.35 million and avoided arbitration.  And we neatly avoided arbitration with Paps through a one-year, $6.25 million deal.  It’s the richest contract ever for a reliever in his first year eligible for arbitration, and it makes him the eleventh-highest paid reliever in the Major Leagues.  And his agent isn’t even Scott Boras (he’s with Sam and Seth Levinson).  But he deserves it.  I mean, the man is a beast.  He’s literally the best closer in the game right now; ask anybody.  Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve wanted to lock up a multi-year deal, but this is fine for now.  He’s not a free agent until after the 2011 season, and avoiding arbitration was a good move.  It’s a very ugly process, because you’ve got the player and the team presenting salary proposals to a panel of three arbitrators, who choose one one of the proposals after the player argues for his worth and the team argues against it.  So basically the team talks down its own player in front of a third party.  It’s totally base; let’s say the team and the player emerge from arbitration with a salary in place.  Then what? The player continues playing for the team that verbally destroyed him.  That can’t be good.  So it’s great that we’ve never gone to arbitration during Theo’s tenure.  Yet more proof that he’s a genius.

We dealt David Pauley to the Orioles for reliever Randor Bierd, and we dealt David Aardsma to the Mariners for lefty Fabian Williamson, a nice addition to our minor league roster.  As far as Varitek is concerned, you know how it goes.  Everything’s still under wraps.  But it has been confirmed that there’s an offer on the table, and this time I’d be very surprised if Varitek doesn’t accept.  When Varitek declined arbitration, he gave up an opportunity to secure a salary at least comparable with last season’s, somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million.  I doubt the offer he’s been given is worth that much, but he has nowhere else to go.  Other teams don’t want to give up draft picks to sign him, and Scott Boras epically failed.  I know I said that last week, but it never gets old.  Scott Boras totally, completely, absolutely, positively, epically epically failed.  So, in all likelihood, look for Varitek to return, but at a discount.

I think it’s worth mentioning that Manny Ramirez, one of the great right-handed hitters of this period in the sport’s history and pretty much guaranteed future Hall-of-Famer, hasn’t signed a contract with anyone yet.  I wonder why.  I’m not worried, though.  Boras will figure something out.  It’s just a shame that Manny’s own worst enemy is himself.

Sean Casey is retiring; he’s already accepted a position with the MLB Network.  Good for him.  His personality is perfect for television.  Unfortunate that we won’t get to see him at bat anymore, though.  He hit line drives like nobody’s business last year.  Jon Lester will be honored with the Hutch Award, given for honor, courage, and dedication.  That’s basically Lester in a nutshell.  That, and he’s also very intelligent, which we can see in this quote:

Anytime you can go to Boston and somewhat succeed, if not succeed, you can pretty much play or pitch anywhere, maybe with the exception of New York.

Because who in their right mind would want to play for New York? (With the emphasis, of course, on the “right mind” part.)

Anyway, the end of the offseason is in sight, and maybe we didn’t accomplish everything on our list, but we’re in a good position for 2009.  We saved money while maintaining our flexibility, we secured deals with our home-grown talent, and we fixed last year’s big problem: bullpen depth.  I think it’s safe to say our bullpen is pretty much locked and loaded.

In other news, it was All-Star Weekend for the NHL, and Boston was represented nicely with four of our finest: Blake Wheeler, Marc Savard, Tim Thomas, and Big Zdeno Chara.  All four did Boston proud. Wheeler won the YoungStars MVP, Savard came in second in the Elimination Shootout while Thomas made some unbelievable saves, and Chara defended his title as Hardest Shot with a record-shattering 105.4 miles per hour.  Can you believe that? 105.4 miles per hour! I saw it, and I still can’t believe it.  I’m telling you, I would not want to be on the receiving end of one of those.  And as for the All-Star Game itself, the Eastern Conference walked away with the victory.  The final score was 12-11.  It was a shootout to end all shootouts, and guess who was in net for the winners.  Tim Thomas.  He stopped Shane Doan, winner of the Elimination Shootout, no less, and Rick Nash.  Roberto Luongo stopped only Vincent Lecavalier.  Thomas should absolutely win the Vezina Trophy this season.  Nuff ced.

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