A deal is reached: The real referees are back!

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A deal is reached: The real referees are back!

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL and the referees' union reached a tentative contract agreement at midnight Thursday, ending an impasse that began in June when the league locked out the officials and used replacements instead."Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night" for the Cleveland-Baltimore game, Commissioner Roger Goodell said after a day of marathon negotiations.With Goodell at the table, the sides concluded two days of talks with the announcement of a tentative eight-year deal, which must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members. They plan to vote Friday."Welcome back REFS," Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller tweeted.The replacements worked the first three weeks of games, triggering a wave of frustration that threatened to disrupt the rest of the season. After a missed call cost the Green Bay Packers a win on a chaotic final play at Seattle on Monday night, the two sides really got serious."We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," referees' union president Scott Green said.The union was seeking improved salaries, retirement benefits and other logistical issues for the part-time officials. The NFL has proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match, and it wants to hire 21 more officials to improve the quality of officiating. The union has fought that, fearing it could lead to a loss of jobs for some of the current officials, as well as a reduction in overall compensation.The NFL claimed its offers have included annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than 200,000 annually by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it means an overall reduction in compensation.Replacement refs aren't new to the NFL. They worked the first week of games in 2001 before a deal was reached. But those officials came from the highest level of college football; the current replacements do not. Their ability to call fast-moving NFL games drew mounting criticism through Week 3, climaxing last weekend, when ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called their work "tragic and comical."Those comments came during "Monday Night Football," with Seattle beating Green Bay 14-12 on a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play. Packers safety M.D. Jennings had both hands on the ball in the end zone, and when he fell to the ground in a scrum, both Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had their arms on the ball.The closest official to the play, at the back of the end zone, signaled for the clock to stop, while another official at the sideline ran in and then signaled touchdown.The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the touchdown pass should not have been overturned -- but acknowledged Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch. The league also said there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the call made on the field.That drew even louder howls of outrage. Some coaches, including Miami's Joe Philbin and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, tried to restore some calm by instructing players not to speak publicly on the issue.Fines against two coaches for incidents involving the replacements were handed out Wednesday.New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was docked 50,000 for trying to grab an official's arm Sunday to ask for an explanation of a call after his team lost at Baltimore. And Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was tagged for 25,000 for what the league called "abuse of officials" in the Redskins' loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Two other coaches, Denver's John Fox and assistant Jack Del Rio, were fined Monday for incidents involving the replacements the previous week."I accept the discipline and I apologize for the incident," Belichick said.Players were in no mood for apologies from anyone."I'll probably get in trouble for this, but you have to have competent people," Carolina receiver Steve Smith said. "And if you're incompetent, get them out of there."Added Rams quarterback Sam Bradford: "I just don't think it's fair to the fans, I don't think it's fair to us as players to go out there and have to deal with that week in and week out. I really hope that they're as close as they say they are."They were. Finally.

First impressions of the Red Sox' 11-9 loss to the Twins

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First impressions of the Red Sox' 11-9 loss to the Twins

BOSTON -- First impressions of the Boston Red Sox 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins:

David Price was once again disappointing.

Minnesota is a team opposing pitchers should long to face.

Their No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters all have averages below .250 with average to below average home run totals.

The only hitter who poses and all-around legitimate threat is Eduardo Nunez, who would probably bat seventh in Boston’s lineup.

While there were other factors at play, Price once again left the ball up in the zone too much. That’s a big problem when nature’s playing a factor in the game.

Either way, with the Twins in town, Price has to be better.

Saturday marked the second time of the season where Sandy Leon registered back-to-back hitless performances.

The previous pair came back on June 29th and July 2nd with a layoff between the two contests.

In his last five contests, Leon is 3-for-17. His power numbers are also down in that stretch, with only two extra-base hits that came on the same night.

It could be a small rough patch given Leon was 7-for-19 with a home run and a double (in separate contests) in the five games preceding this dry spell.

Either ay it’s something to watch as Leon plays more and more.

The wind played a factor in the high-run total.

The second hit of the ball game seemed like a medium-depth fly to right, and nearly carried out of the ballpark.

Michael Martinez was twisting and turning on fly balls changing direction all night -- and there’s evidence it wasn’t just him.

David Ortiz reached on a pop up that Nunez went after, which never left the infield.

Trash and dust were flying everywhere in the first inning. While that intensity didn’t maintain all night, it was definitely an issue players had to consider throughout the game.

The bullpen mop-up crew couldn’t get the job done.

While some of the hits in the five-run seventh were luck, Clay Buchholz and Tommy Layne flat out couldn’t get the job done against a rough lineup.

Neither is a terribly great option -- so the Red Sox might want to reconsider using either one in those situations.

Even Heath Hembree couldn’t put together a decent night. Someone has to stop the bleeding when things get out of control.

The Red Sox pitchers can’t keep throwing away nine-run performances.

With Friday night serving as evidence, the offense will not always have great nights.

So when they do, the pitch has to be decent -- but they couldn’t even do that Saturday.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar

Je-Vaughn Watson scores late, Revs beat Fire 1-0

Je-Vaughn Watson scores late, Revs beat Fire 1-0

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Je-Vaughn Watson scored on a header in the 85th minute and the New England Revolution beat the Chicago Fire 1-0 on Saturday night.

The Revolution (6-7-8) had a flurry of attempts leading up to the goal and Fire (4-10-5) goalkeeper Sean Johnson made three saves in the 2 minutes prior.

But Johnson came off his line to defend Chris Tierney's corner and failed to clear it with his outstretched hand while Watson connected and sent the header into the empty net.

Bobby Shuttleworth earned his fifth shutout of the season for New England.

Could Chris Sale's altercation open the door to get him at a lower cost?

Could Chris Sale's altercation open the door to get him at a lower cost?

Chris Sale -- this year’s American league starting pitcher in the All-Star game -- was a late scratch and sent home before his scheduled Saturday start.

This of course comes after the White Sox have begun to listen to offers for their bonafide ace -- including the Red Sox.

Preceding the game, the White Sox released a statement from senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn explaining that Sale’s removal was “due to a clubhouse incident before the game.”

After ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported the altercation was with staff from the front office and had nothing to do with his teammates, there was another report that the issue pertained to the throwback uniforms the White Sox planned to wear for Saturday’s game.

Fox’s Ken Rosenthal has additionally been told the issue “was bigger than that.” 

Sale is a huge addition to any starting rotation -- never mind the Red Sox staff.

His stats are without a doubt impressive. An All-Star every season since 2012 thanks to his career 2.95 ERA and 10.1 K/9 -- this year posting a 3.18 ERA and 8.7 K/9.

But numbers can be deceiving -- especially with players playing for a small market club. That’s not the case with Sale though. While the White Sox haven’t contended in the postseason with the lefty, there’s no denying that Chicago isn’t a small market by any means.

The jump from Chicago to Boston is nothing compared to players coming from places like Miami or Atlanta -- or San Diego. So Sale presents a good fit in terms of approach -- in addition to having good stuff.

The incident makes Sale come across as a prima donna, the fact that the issue went past the uniforms shows there could be a deeper issue at hand -- and not so much an indictment of his mental make-up.

Additionally, this altercation could open the door to get Sale at a lower value. If it was that bad that he was sent home, it could take a lot more than a stern talk and hand shakes to resolve the issue, giving interested teams a much better chance to obtain the Cy Young candidate.

However, if the Red Sox do manage to strike a deal with the White Sox, they’d be wise to throw someone else on throwback nights.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar