Best pitcher in National League traded to Toronto

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Best pitcher in National League traded to Toronto

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Eager for a new challenge and certainly a better chance to win, R.A. Dickey broke the news of his trade even before the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.A few minutes ahead of the teams announcing the seven-player swap Monday that sent the NL Cy Young Award winner to Toronto, he tweeted his thanks to Mets fans and added he was all set to pitch for the Blue Jays."Now that its official, I want to say that I don't have the words to express how grateful I am to you for the steadfast support," Dickey posted on Twitter. "Thank you for making me feel wanted.""Looking forward to a new chapter with the Jays," he wrote.Toronto acquired the 38-year-old knuckleballer and catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. The Mets got top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud and veteran catcher John Buck, plus minor league right-hander Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra."It was an extraordinary privilege for us to be part of his career," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said about Dickey on a conference call. "The final chapter has not been written."Earlier in the day, Dickey and the busy Blue Jays agreed to a new contract, clearing the way for the Mets to send him to a team that's spending a lot of money trying to join baseball's elite. Toronto has now acquired All-Stars Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and Dickey since the season ended.Dickey was already signed for 5.25 million next year. His new contract adds two more seasons for 25 million -- he will get 12 million in both 2014 and 2015, plus there's a club option for 2016 at 12 million with a 1 million buyout."We're just so close to contention," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "It's not just about one season. This allows us to put what we feel is a contending team together for an extended run, for a three-to-five-year period."Dickey needed to pass a physical before the teams announced the deal. He became the fourth pitcher to win the Cy Young and be traded before the next season, joining David Cone, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens.Alderson said the Mets' preference going into the offseason was to re-sign Dickey. But as the winter meetings approached in early December, Alderson said Dickey's value "in a possible trade was also sky-rocketing. At some point, those lines crossed."Several teams made runs at a deal for Dickey, with Texas and the Los Angeles Angels among those in the mix. Alderson said while some clubs popped in and out of trade talks, Toronto's interest remained steady.Alderson said the Mets didn't completely decide to trade Dickey until they saw the final package that Toronto offered."This was a complicated deal," Alderson said.The Blue Jays have missed the playoffs since winning their second straight World Series crown in 1993, and have boldly moved to reshape a team that went 73-89 last season in the rugged AL East.Last month, they acquired a high-priced trio -- Johnson and Buehrle on the mound, Reyes at shortstop -- in a 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins.Toronto later signed Cabrera, an All-Star outfielder with San Francisco whose season ended when he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test.Dickey was 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA last season, capping his rapid rise from the majors' scrap heap to an ace pitcher. He did it by perfecting a way to throw his floater faster than previous knuckleballers, and tossing it with exceptional control.Dickey becomes part of a stellar Toronto rotation that includes Johnson, Buehrle and returning starters Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow."We clearly are convinced this can be a front-line starter for us," Anthopoulos said. "I don't think he gets the credit or the respect he deserves because of his age, and because of what he does throw. And I understand because it's so rare."But there's so much overwhelming data and evidence that points to him continuing to have this success."Thole gives the Blue Jays a catcher who is familiar with handling Dickey's knuckleball, and Anthopoulos said that relationship was a key to the deal."R.A. is too important to our chances to take a chance and have a tryout camp to see if someone can catch him," he said.Thole joins a lineup that features former home run champ Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 42 homers last season.Despite a big spot in the rotation to fill minus Dickey, Alderson said the Mets were not giving up on next season."We certainly are not punting on 2013," he said.D'Arnaud turns 24 in February. He hit .333 at Triple-A Las Vegas with 16 homers and 52 RBIs before tearing a knee ligament trying to break up a double play in June. He has been an All-Star at several levels during his climb through the minors.Alderson called d'Arnaud the top catching prospect in the minors and predicted he could contribute on the major league level next year."As painful as it was to trade the kids that we did trade, it might be three or four years down the road before they become All-Star status, or whatever is going to happen to them," Anthopoulos said. "At that time Reyes could be gone, Buehrle could be gone, Bautista could be gone, Encarnacion could be gone. We have no idea what our core will look like."Popular with Mets fans, Dickey perturbed team management when he spoke about his contract situation last week during a club event at Citi Field for children displaced from their schools by Superstorm Sandy.Dickey said he enjoyed playing for the Mets and added it would be "disappointing" if he went through his option year without a new deal and became a free agent."If that's the decision that they make, I feel like it would be unfortunate because it probably is going to mean that I'm not going to be back," Dickey said then. "And that would be sad."Buck was an All-Star with Toronto in 2010. The 32-year-old hit .192 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs for Miami last season, then was part of the big trade between Marlins and Blue Jays.The 20-year-old Syndergaard went 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA for Class A Lansing. The 18-year-old Becerra hit .250 with four RBIs in 11 games in the rookie Gulf Coast League.Thole hit .234 with one homer and 21 RBIs in 104 games last season. The 26-year-old played four seasons with the Mets.Nickeas split last season with the Mets and Triple-A Buffalo. The 29-year-old hit .174 with one homer and 13 RBIs for New York.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 25, the Boston Celtics had the perennial title contenders on the ropes with the lead in the fourth quarter only to lose it and the game, 109-103.

On the road at Houston, one of the Western Conference’s top teams, the Celtics led in the fourth quarter and wound up losing their Dec. 5 matchup 107-106 as Al Horford missed what would have been a game-winning lay-up as time expired.

Boston played well in both games, but not well enough to win which unfortunately for the Green Team has been how things have gone when they’ve faced some of the better teams in the NBA this season.

They are hoping to break that trend tonight when they hit the road and face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder (14-9) come in with a slightly better record than the Celtics (13-10).

Boston’s issue isn’t that they can’t play with the better teams.

It’s their finish that needs work.

Boston has lost five of its six games this season against teams that are currently among the top-4 in their respective conferences. 

Losses to San Antonio and Houston only highlight Boston not being able to make the late-game runs needed to win.

Even in their 101-94 loss to Toronto on Friday, it was the Raptors’ ability to make one clutch play after another when it mattered most, that proved to be what was needed to propel them to victory.

“That’s what good teams do; they execute at the end of the game,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “We just have to execute better and get stops at the end of the game. That’s what it comes down to.”

And while the Celtics have a number of returners from last season, every season brings about a different team and with that, a need to learn how to collectively be successful especially down the stretch in close games.

“We’re learning,” Bradley said following the Raptors loss. “We’re moving on to the next game.”

And that would be the Thunder who come in having won six of their last seven games.

Of course when it comes to the Thunder, everything starts with Russell Westbrook who is on everyone’s short list for league MVP.

He is averaging a triple-double this season with 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds per game.

“He’s amazing,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier who will likely spend some time defending Westbrook tonight. “He’s going to be aggressive. We have to try and find a way to stop that. He’s putting up video game stats. It’s tough but we gotta do something.”

The Celtics will likely lean heavily on Marcus Smart and Bradley, a first-team all-NBA defensive selection last season, when it comes to trying to slow down Westbrook.

“Russell’s a good player,” Bradley said. “I look forward to every matchup. If it’s him, whoever it is, I look forward to it. That’s what this league is about.”

It’s also about growth and development of franchises into title contenders, something the Celtics are eager to continue pushing towards tonight.

Horford spent the previous nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, advancing to the playoffs every season.

He saw first-hand how they went from a team that could barely get into the playoffs, into one that produced four all-stars in one season and had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Horford saw the loss to Toronto as an example of a really good team doing what great teams do and that’s finding a way to win regardless of how things are going most of the night.

“We made a run early (against Toronto), they stayed with it, didn’t rattle and eventually got over us,” Horford said. “We’re growing as a group.”