Don't pull the Sox plug yet

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Don't pull the Sox plug yet

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Some random thoughts after a sports-filled weekend (otherwise known as a weekend):

Red Sox, DOA?
On the heels of a mediocre Red Sox road trip at a time when "mediocre" just doesnt cut it brace yourself for the arrival of countless Sox obituaries on the shores of our precious Internet.

On one hand, there's no doubt the outlook looks less than sexy.

Theres nothing that the Sox can do to bring Youkilis back, and with Ellsbury's latest setback you have to assume he's done for the year (and, given his recovery speed, wonder if he'll ever play again). The injuries are killers. Then you've got the uncertainty at the end of bullpen (a nice way of saying Jonathan Papelbons arm is about as trustworthy as a BP exec), and the fact that while there are still 40-plus games left on the year, the Sox are at least beginning to run out of time.

But as we most recently learned with the Celtics, and so many other times before that: In sports, conventional wisdom and logic are only temporary. Theyre always day-to-day.

Sure, at the moment, the idea of the Sox catching Tampa feels Bay far-fetched. But what if Boston sweeps, or even takes two of three from, the fading Angels this week? How quickly will that tune change?

Or how about this: The Sox and Rays will play a three-game series at the Trop from August 27-30. In the meantime, the Sox play nine games (all at home) against the fading Angels, faded Mariners and the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the Rays play 10 games three against the red-hot Rangers, and then a seven-game West Coast trip against LA and Oakland.

Advantage, Sox? Without question. Looking at that schedule, its completely reasonable to think that Boston, even in its current state, can make up a few games before Aug. 27, at which point, anything is possible.

If they don't, then, yeah, maybe theyre not good enough. Maybe they'll have run out of chances. Maybe its time to bump all the Pats pages to the front of your bookmarks bar.

But not yet. We just dont know. We cant know. Nobody does. It's too early to be pronouncing teams dead.

Fine, maybe I'll go out on a limb and say that the Orioles wont make the playoffs this year. But to use the term "dead" about a team thats only five out with 43 games left is reactionary insanity.

Am I about to run online and bet my rent check on the Sox winning the pennant (only 7-1 odds, by the way)? Of course not. But would I be shocked if they snuck into the Wild Card and stirred up a little chaos in the postseason? No way.

Moving forward
One mans take on the four players whom the Sox success most hinges on:

1. Josh Beckett (left)John Lackey

Ideally, both these former All-Stars will come around and make good on disappointing 2010 seasons, but if even one of them can turn back the clock over these next six weeks, and join Lester, Buchholz and, I guess, (man, this feels weird to type) Dice-K in the ranks of respectable Sox starters, the team will enter into a new echelon, at the perfect time.

2. Dustin Pedroia

In baseball, it's hard for one player especially a position player to dominate the ebb and flow of a game, but when Dustin Pedroia returns from injury on Tuesday he will have to be that guy. Obviously, his on-field production will be the greatest help, but Pedroia also needs to inject some life and emotion into the fray. He needs to put that contagious, sometimes overwhelming, attitude and energy and hope that it infects every single person in that clubhouse (yes, even J.D. Drew). He needs to be AugustSeptember 2008 Dustin Pedroia, and nothing less. Or the Sox will likely do nothing.

3. Jonathan Papelbon

Unless things get much, much worse for Papelbon let's say, at least two more blown saves I have a very hard time imagining the Sox moving him out of the closer role.

Why?

Terry Francona.

Seriously, if you had one word to describe Terry Francona's managerial style, what would it be?

Loyal, right? That's how Tito rolls. Sometimes to a fault and that's with guys he's only had for a couple months. You really think he'll have the nerve to pull the plug of one of his most accomplished and longest-tenured guys? Short of Paps morphing into 2007 Eric Gagne, I just don't see it. Not this season, at least.

That being the case, the Sox need Papelbon to just morph into 2007 Jonathan Papelbon. Hell, they'd even take the 2009 version.

The Sox future not to mention the extent of Paps' future earnings depends on it.

Naming Wrongs
Wondering how long did it take the guys in Texas to come up with the name: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Did they even call a meeting for that one? Or maybe they were stuck in the world's longest meeting, couldn't come to a consensus, and after 11 hours just said, "Eff it, lets just call it what it is and make a tee time."

Either way. Well done, Texas.

The Big Ego
Im starting to get a bit more comfortable with the idea of Shaq wearing green next season. The expectations seem reasonable, Shaq seems committed, and the fact that KG broke off vacation in Hawaii to be in Waltham for the press conference says a lot for where he stands on the matter. For now, there's reason to err on the side of optimism

But what I still dont get is how or why everyone or at least a good handful of people have been so quick to anoint Shaq as this egoless and selfless saint who'll fit seamlessly into the Celtics locker room. What has he done in his career to predict this? He's had problems with that kind of thing since he came into the league.

I do believe he's committed, at this very moment, to putting everything aside for the greater good, but he's far from egoless. He may have accepted that hes no longer a threat to win the MVP, but he still thinks he can dominate; I guarantee you he believes he's the best the center on the Celtics roster. And at some point this year, that belief will be tested. Do you really think that Shaq who's been in the starting line-up for all but 9 of his 1,170 regular-season games will be comfortable coming off the bench in favor of Kendrick Perkins? Nope. And if that's a problem, what's Doc's other option? Relegating Perk to the bench, upsetting his already fragile confidence and psyche, and breaking up the starting five that still yet to lose a playoff series when healthy?

I'm not saying drama is unavoidable, but it should be pretty damn interesting.

Big Man Mystery
On the above note:

NBA Big Man A 2010 stats: 23.4 minutes, 12 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks

NBA Big Man B 2010 stats: 28.4 minutes, 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks

NBA Big Man C 2010 stats: 29.9 minutes, 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, .8 blocks

So, what do you think? Even with the minute disparities, these three guys are pretty comparable, right? Wouldnt you look at these three stat lines and assume A, B and C are all playing at about the same level?

Anyway, to end the paralyzing suspense:

NBA Big Man A = Shaquille O'Neal
NBA Big Man B = Jermaine O'Neal
NBA Big Man C = Kevin Garnett

Yeah, I know. This doesnt account for defense blocks don't tell the whole story or the emotional intangibles that put KG in another level compared to the O'Neals, but the comparisons still interesting, considering all the "washed-up" talk thats surrounded Shaq and JO's arrivals in Boston.

Maybe it means that we've all been a little too quick to write off the careers of the two new guys, or maybe . . .

Nah, lets just go with that.

Dustin Johnson: Tough Break, Honest Mistake, or Ridiculous Rules
Ill go with a little of all three.

First things first (and obvious): You have to feel awful for Johnson (right). He was in prime position to win two Majors this season an achievement that would have thrust him into golf's elite and made him millions and millions in sponsorships. Hes had two shots, when most guys are lucky to even have one, and on both occasions, he's choked it away. Thats not to say Johnson is without the skills, going forward, to be in contention four times a year, but nothing's set in stone. Anything can happen. Ask David Duval. With two Majors, Johnson would have been on the path to greatness, but for now, hell have to settle for Greg Norman comparisons.

As for Bunker-gate (damn, it feels good to be able to use the played-out "-gate" phrase), I think the PGA got it right.

It's ridiculous they'd allow the crowd to occupy an area that qualifies as a bunker, but at the same time, they also went out of their way all week to hammer home the hazard rules, and considering the stakes, it was Johnson's (or his caddys) responsibility to know the story. When that kind of dough and prestige is on the line, ignorance cant be an excuse. You have to play it right. And even if the PGA might lose a few casual fans who'll cite the organization's rigidness as a reason to stop watching golf (along with the reason that Tiger stinks), not making the proper call would have caused more harm in the long term. It would have set a dangerous precedent.

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

Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza take their place among legends in Cooperstown

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Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza take their place among legends in Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Two players who began their careers at opposite ends of the spectrum nearly three decades ago ended up in the same place on Sunday — with their names etched on plaques at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, the culmination of their long journeys was tinged with tears all around.

"I stand up here humbled and overwhelmed," Griffey said, staring out at his family and tens of thousands of fans. "I can't describe how it feels."

The two became a piece of history on their special day. Griffey, the first pick of the 1987 amateur draft, became the highest pick ever inducted. Piazza, a 62nd-round pick the next year —No. 1,390 — is the lowest pick to enter the Hall of Fame.

Griffey played 22 big-league seasons with the Mariners, Reds and White Sox and was selected on a record 99.32 percent of ballots cast, an affirmation of sorts for his clean performance during baseball's so-called Steroids Era.

A 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner in center field, Griffey hit 630 home runs, sixth all-time, and drove in 1,836 runs. He also was the American League MVP in 1997, drove in at least 100 runs in eight seasons, and won seven Silver Slugger Awards.

Griffey, who fell just three votes shy of being the first unanimous selection, hit 417 of his 630 homers and won all 10 of his Gold Gloves with the Seattle Mariners. He played the first 11 seasons of his career with the Mariners and led them to the playoffs for the first two times in franchise history.

"Thirteen years with the Seattle Mariners, from the day I got drafted, Seattle, Washington, has been a big part of my life," Griffey said, punctuating the end of his speech by putting a baseball cap on backward as he did throughout his career.

"I'm going to leave you with one thing. In 22 years I learned that one team will treat you the best, and that's your first team. I'm damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner."

Dubbed "The Natural" for his effortless excellence at the plate and in center field, Griffey avoided the Hall of Fame until his special weekend because he wanted his first walk through the front doors of the stately building on Main Street to be with his kids, whom he singled out one by one in his 20-minute speech.

"There are two misconceptions about me — I didn't work hard and everything I did I made look easy," Griffey said. "Just because I made it look easy doesn't mean that it was. You don't become a Hall of Famer by not working, but working day in and day out."

Griffey's mom, Birdie, and his father, former Cincinnati Reds star Ken Sr., both cancer survivors and integral to his rise to stardom, were front and center in the first row.

"To my dad, who taught me how to play this game and to my mom, the strongest woman I know," Junior said. "To have to be mom and dad, she was our biggest fan and our biggest critic. She's the only woman I know that lives in one house and runs five others."

Selected in the draft by the Dodgers after Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, a close friend of Piazza'a father, Vince, put in a good word, Piazza struggled.

He briefly quit the game while in the minor leagues, returned and persevered despite a heavy workload as he switched from first base to catcher and teammates criticized his erratic play.

Mom and dad were foremost on his mind, too.

"Dad always dreamed of playing in the major leagues," said Piazza, just the second Hall of Famer depicted on his plaque wearing a Mets cap, after Tom Seaver in 1992.

"He could not follow that dream because of the realities of life. My father's faith in me, often greater than my own, is the single most important factor of me being inducted into this Hall of Fame. Thank you dad. We made it, dad. The race is over. Now it's time to smell the roses."

Piazza played 16 years with the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres and Athletics and hit 427 home runs, including a major league record 396 as a catcher. A 12-time All-Star, Piazza won 10 Silver Slugger Awards and finished in the top five of his league's MVP voting four times.

Perhaps even more impressive, Piazza, a .308 career hitter, posted six seasons with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .300 batting average (all other catchers in baseball history combined have posted nine such seasons).

Though the Dodgers gave him his start, Piazza found a home in New York when he was traded to the Mets in May 1998.

Three years later, he became a hero to the hometown fans with perhaps the most notable home run of his career. His two-run shot in the eighth inning at Shea Stadium lifted the Mets to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first sporting event played in New York after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Piazza paid tribute to that moment.

"To witness the darkest evil of the human heart ... will be forever burned in my soul," Piazza said. "But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and eventual healing.

"Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on Sept. 21st, but the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders that knew that they were going to die, but went forward anyway. I pray that we never forget their sacrifice."

Attendance was estimated at around 50,000 by the Hall of Fame, tying 1999 when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Young were inducted, for second-most all time behind 2007 (Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn).

Copyright The Associated Press

 

First impressions of Red Sox' 8-7 win over Twins

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First impressions of Red Sox' 8-7 win over Twins

BOSTON -- First impressions of the Red Sox' 8-7 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Fenway Park:
 
Rick Porcello did all he needed to do.

Although he’s still undefeated thus far at home (10-0), Porcello’s start could have easily gone better for him -- especially if Brock Holt catches a few fly balls hit his way.

Regardless, he's 13-2 with a 3.57 ERA and still maintained the title of Boston’s “most reliable pitcher.”

Yes, he gave up five runs -- but four were earned. And Juan Centeno’s “double” that was lost in the sun by Holt should’ve been caught -- accounting for at least one more run.

Porcello had another start where the bullpen was overworked the previous day in a tough loss. Furthermore, his teammates were expected to perform a little more than 12 hours after a rough four-hour contest.

This is a game where the numbers don’t do his performance justice -- but at the same time, Porcello left the bullpen to hold a three-run lead in the final 2 1/3 innings.
 
The Red Sox need Mookie Betts back in right.

If that wasn’t made evident with Michael Martinez’s play Saturday night, Holt made it clear when he couldn’t corral Max Kepler’s deep fly to right in the fourth.

Although the sun could’ve played a factor, Holt got there in time. So the ball has to be caught. Instead, he was too worried about the hip-height wall that he was heading toward at full steam.

Not too mention the fly ball he dropped looking into the sun in the seventh -- which was somehow ruled a hit. As much as the Green Monster is a difficult beast to master, right field at Fenway can be just as difficult.
 
Hanley Ramirez continues to take advantage of pitcher’s mistakes.

The best part about Ramirez’s third-inning, three-run blast was it came on a first pitch changeup -- not exactly something hitters are sitting on out the gate.

Additionally, Tommy Millone’s changeup ran in on Ramirez, instead of away from him -- given Millone is a lefty and Ramirez a right-handed hitter.

If Ramirez gets that pitch a month ago, he rips in foul or rolls over the top of it. Instead, he keeps displaying that he can still pull the ball with power.