10 Guys Who Can Make A Difference

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10 Guys Who Can Make A Difference

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

It was an insane sports weekend here in Boston. You know. You were there.

And so were these 10 athletes. From top to bottom, these 10 guys all had an effect on the ebb and flow of the citys 6-0 performance. In some cases, their team won in spite of them. In others, they were a major reason for success.

But positive or negative, each of these 10 guys made an impact, and will have to either keep it up or wake up if this weekend partys going to extend into May, June or (in the Sox' case) November.

So let's take a trip through the gauntlet of good will, starting with the guys who are struggling to find it:

10. Jarrod Saltalamacchia: At first, Saltalamacchia was the everyday catcher. Then, he was the everyday catcher except for when Josh Beckett pitched. Now, hes the everyday catcher except when Beckett and Dice-K pitch.

Whats next?

Tito: Hey, Salty. Listen, youre still our guy, its just that from now on Teks the personal catcher for every single pitcher on the staff, and the bullpen, and . . . yeah, just the entire roster. You understand, right?

Obviously, its not all bad. Saltalamacchia was behind the plate for Lackeys gem on Sunday. After the game, Lackey, the Simon Cowell of the Sox staff, even managed to throw a few compliments his young catchers way. Thats a decent sign. Salty also picked up a double and scored a run on Friday. (Although, to be fair, the ghost of Nelson de la Rosa could put up numbers in this lineup.)

The point is that as the Sox start to turn their season around, Saltalamacchia is still the most underwhelming "everyday" player, and Boston needs him to figure this thing out. The more Varitek has to play now, the less likely it is he'll be around down the stretch.

(P.S. Isnt it hilarious how the Sox allegedly let VMart walk because of shortcomings behind the plate, yet the guy they replaced him with cant throw out runners, or stop anything in the dirt and has already alienated 40 percent the staff?

(No, youre right. Its not hilarious at all.)

9. Jeff Green: I'm a pretty awful golfer.

And during an average day out on the course, I'll drive myself nuts: slicing tee shots, skulling irons, splashing bunkers, three-putting from 15 feet. Its infuriating; beyond frustrating, and there are so many times when I just want to give up.

But I never do.

Thats because through all the torture, theres always one or two instances every round when I hit the perfect shot. I stick an approach from 150 yards, I light up the fairway with a drive. Everything clicks and theres no better feeling in the world. (Full disclosure: I've never tried crack.)

In these moments, I catch a glimpse of my full potential. I actually see it, and feel it, and at this point, I start thinking, Man, if I can do this once, why not every time? Seriously, why cant I do this? . . . I can do this!

And that positivity lingers as long as I need it to; at least until the next perfect shot.

Deep down, I know that Ill probably never become an amazing golfer. Theres a good chance that it never completely and permanently clicks. But in the face of all that pessimism, those brief flashes of success keep me addicted to the chase, and believing that somehow, someway I'll find a way to put it all together.

Thats Jeff Green. Jeff Green is my golf game. Boatloads of frustration peppered with glimpses of greatness, and the fleeting hope that someday (soon) it's all going to happen.

8. Milan Lucic: The whole first lines been a mess, but while David Krejci still gave the Bs a burst in Game 3, and Nathan Horton scored the game-winner on Saturday night, the guy who Boston expects the most from is still delivering the least.

Thats Milan Lucic and his zero goals, one assist and plusminus rating of minus-1 through five games. Not to get all Dr. Phil, but you just cant do that!

In a way, maybe Lucics struggles bode well for the future. After all, if the Bruins got this far (three straight wins) without any contributions from their No. 1 scorer, how effective will they be once Looch joins the playoff party?

Because he has to eventually, right? Its not like his strong season was a fluke. His 30-goal year was three seasons in the making. Now its just a matter of that regular-season success transferring to when it matters most.

And Boston better hope is happens soon. Like, how about Tuesday night?

7. Carl Crawford: Its almost May, Carl Crawfords hitting .171, yet somehow were optimistic about his season? Seems crazy, but it's true.

With most players, two good games (after three pathetic and painfully awkward weeks) wouldnt win you back. But Crawford is different. We know how great he is. This guys tormented Boston for the last eight years. Weve been up-close-and-personal, face-to-face with just how devastating he is in the field, at the plate and on the base paths. He isnt Edgar Renteria. He's Carl Crawford. Hed be fine. We just knew it wouldnt last. It couldnt last. And with the events of this past weekend, it feels like its finally over.

Although maybe well wait until hes up above .200 before officially calling off the search party.
6. John Lackey: It hurts to speak positively about John Lackey.

Over the course of his first season with the Sox, he underperformed on the field, and was perpetually offensive off of it. No one was quicker to lay the blame somewhere else. He was baseballs answer to LaDainian Tomlinson.

OK, maybe thats a little much, but either way, he wasnt the most endearing character in that clubhouse. He made himself very hard to root for. And with the start of this season, it didnt feel like anything had changed. You got the sense that Lackey would spend the extent of his stay in Boston struggling on the mound and burning bridges off it, until the Sox were forced to eat his contract and move him out of town. It wouldnt have been easy, but they may not have had a choice.

Thats not to say his last two starts have completely pulled him out of the woods. Unlike with Crawford, it will take more than a few good performances for Boston to completely restore its faith in John Lackey. But until now, there was never a reason to believe that would ever happen.

5. Jermaine ONeal: The Celtics are off for the next two days, the entirety of which Jermaine ONeal will spend mummified in 50 pounds of ice and 300 yards of ace bandages.

Hell be fed (cupcake fruity pebbles, of course) through a tube and only be exposed to the outside world as much as it takes to keep him alive. The Celtics will repeat this approach for every moment hes off the floor until their seasons over.

But, seriously, what can you say about Jermaine ONeal?

Its still hard to believe that hell stay healthy for all of the playoffs. Thats not to say that he cant or wont or whatever, but right now, its hard to envision. The most consecutive games he played all season was 10. He has a knee injury, a wrist injury and is prone to more. Would it be crushing to the Celtics' hopes if he went down at this point? Yes. Would you be entirely shocked if he did? No. Disappointed, but not shocked. Theres a big difference.

Every step along the way in these playoffs, no matter how well he performs, that fear will be the elephant in the room. It will be hard to 100 percent appreciate whats happening, because the expectation of what might happen.

OK, enough negativity.

In reality, ONeals performance over the last few days, piggybacked by his work in Games 1 and 2, was one of the most uplifting aspects of the weekend. The guy spent six months driving Boston nuts, earning the ire of fans, his coach and teammates. Rasheed Wallace got a lot of flack last year, but Jermaine may have surpassed it. Sure, it was for different reasons, but the anti-ONeal sentiment was real, and it was difficult to imagine JO ever working himself back into anyones good graces.

But like Rasheed, JOs used the playoffs to justify his existence. Hes erased nearly all that contempt. Now you look at Jermaine, and you dont have those hard feelings, you look at him and see just another hard working, indispensable cog in the Celtics machine, and as long as thats the case, who cares about the last six months?

Just do your thing, JO.

Now that's enough reading for you.

There's a 50-pound bag of ice over there with your name on it.

4. Daisuke Matsuzaka: I dont know.

I mean, the talent had to be in there somewhere, right? Even as we justifiably crucified Dice-Ks career, called for his head and criticized every aspect of how the Sox acquired him and treated him after, we knew there had to be something behind all that hype.

We were disgusted by the mere mention of his name, we feared his turn in the rotation like an impending root canal. There was no more maligned athlete in Boston sports. Yet, again, that was only because of the expectations we had for him coming in, because he supposedly had all that talent. And for two straight starts, its been on full display. Its been like the Twilight Zone. And if this episode can last for the next five months, its scary to think what the Sox might accomplish.
3. Ray Allen: Somehow, I dont think Allens receiving enough credit for his performance in Round 1.

Then again, Menino could shut down the city, hold a parade in Rays honor, mandate that everyone wear a shooting sleeve to work and spend the day pretending they had OCD, and it still wouldnt be enough. How do you do justice to a guy shooting 17-for-26 from three-point land? Thats unheard of! Right now, Allens three-point percentage would lead the playoffs in field-goal percentage, and it goes without saying that when Ray Allens shooting this way, the Celtics are on another level. (Although, I guess I just said it anyway.)

Its impossible for him to keep shooting at this pace. If Allen managed to stick at 65 percent from three-point land for the rest of the playoffs, it would literally be the greatest, most difficult and unprecedented accomplishment in the history of sports. But if hes anywhere close, the Celtics are a different team. And their young point guard might break every playoff assists record in the book.

Speaking of the devil . . .

2. Rajon Rondo: We all know what Rondo did this past weekend, but heres what he didnt do.

He didnt hit the ground. He was never knocked on his ass.

He dominated the Knicks, and played the game the Celtics need him to, and New York never made him pay for it physically. Thats so unbelievably important for the future of this team.

This wasnt the first opening series that Rondos dominated. Each of the last two seasons hes come out in the playoffs and been the best player on the floor. Hes always ready when the playoffs start. Thats not the problem.

The biggest concern is always what happens going forward. By last years Finals, Rondo was broken down. Hed taken a beating for the entirety of the playoffs, had been hit hard and flopped awkwardly to the ground on far too many occasions. He always got up, but eventually it caught up. But this year, he moves on to the second round almost unscathed, and that bodes very well for Bostons future.

It will be so much easier to Rondo to keep that mentalemotional side of his game up to speed, when the physical side is still intact.

1. Tim Thomas: Imagine if there was a way for the Sox to let Jon Lester pitch every game of the playoffs.

Only in this situation, Lesters arm is always fresh. Pitch count doesnt matter. You can leave him out there all game, every game, and thanks to the schedule, hell never be too much worse for the wear. Imagine how dominant he would be. Imagine how integral Lesters performance would be to the Sox ability to do, really, anything . . .

Thats sort of how things work with goalies in the NHL playoffs. No one has a greater effect on the outcome of the games. No one is more capable of carrying a team to the Promised Land. No position in sports has more to do with a team's ultimate success.

So, if there's one guy in Boston right now most capable of single-handedly securing the city's next rolling rally, it's Tim Thomas.

And thankfully, over these past six months, there are very few guys you'd be more willing to count on.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

WNBA: Sun blow 21-point lead before beating Liberty, 94-89

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WNBA: Sun blow 21-point lead before beating Liberty, 94-89

NEW YORK - Jasmine Thomas scored 23 points and Connecticut held on for a 94-89 win over the New York Liberty on Friday night after blowing a 21-point lead.

Jonquel Jones added 21 points for the Sun (6-5). Theyh ave won five straight games, including two over New York.

Connecticut was up 70-49 in the third quarter before New York rallied to tie it at 86 with 1:06 left on a layup by Shavonte Zellous. Courtney Williams then hit a jumper to give the Sun the lead and pulled down the rebound on the other end. Jasmine Thomas then hit a 3-pointer from the wing - the team's 12th of the game - with 24 seconds left to seal the victory.

The Sun were hot from the start from behind the arc, hitting five of their first nine 3-pointers and finished the first half with nine 3s to build a 46-32 advantage.

Tina Charles scored 18 of her 20 points in the second half to lead New York (7-5). Zellous added 18.

The Sun had been winning without Morgan Tuck (knee) and Lynetta Kizer (back), who are sidelined with injuries. Coach Curt Miller expects Kizer back sooner than Tuck.

The Liberty have only three home games in the next 45 days spending most of the month of July on the road.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.