Gonzalez' walkoff caps Sox rally, 8-7

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Gonzalez' walkoff caps Sox rally, 8-7

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON After clawing their way back from a six-run deficit, the Red Sox beat the Orioles, 8-7, on Adrian Gonzalezs two-run double in the ninth inning at Fenway Park Monday night. It is the first time the Sox have been above the .500 mark this season.

But, they certainly didnt take the easy route getting there.

Daisuke Matsuzaka faced eight batters in the first inning, giving up two runs. He went 4 13 giving up five runs on five hits and seven walks with two strikeouts. His walk total was one shy of his career high, which he had done twice previously on May 5, 2008, in five innings, and on May 27, 2010 in 4 23 innings.

Despite the hole Matsuzaka left them in, the Sox fought back, scoring five runs in the sixth, sending 10 batters to the plate. The Orioles, though, were able to fend off the Sox, scoring a run in the seventh when Alfredo Aceves allowed a lead-off home run to Mark Reynolds. The Sox added another run in the bottom of the inning to cut the deficit.

Os closer Kevin Gregg entered in the ninth with seven saves in nine opportunities this season. After getting Jason Varitek to fly out, Gregg gave up back-to-back walks to Jacoby Ellsbury, who stole second, and Dustin Pedroia, setting the stage for Gonzalezs dramatics. He took the first pitch from Gregg, an 80-mph slider and banged it off the Wall, scoring Ellsbury and Pedroia for the win. It was Gonzalezs first game-winning hit with the Sox.

Aceves (1-0, 2.60 ERA) got the win, going three innings, allowing one run on two hits with no walks, two strikeouts, and a home run. It was Greggs (0-1, 3.52) third blown save of the season.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Adrian Gonzalez

With one out, Jacoby Ellsbury on second, Dustin Pedroia on first, and the Sox down one run in the ninth inning, Adrian Gonzalez came to the plate. He crushed the first pitch from Orioles closer Kevin Gregg off the Wall to give the Sox the win, 8-7. Gonzalezs first walk-off hit for the Red Sox also put them above .500 for the first time this season.

Gonzalez went 3-for-5, raising his average to .327, with a run scored and three RBI extending his American League lead to 37 RBI.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kevin Youkilis

Youkilis two-run double was the Sox big blow in the five-run sixth inning. He went 2-for-4, with two doubles, a walk, and two RBI.

THE GOAT: Kevin Gregg

Kevin Gregg entered the game with seven saves in nine opportunities this season. He also had a precarious one-run lead. After starter Chris Tillman lasted just five innings, keeping the Sox scoreless, the Os bullpen gave up eight runs, while just four were earned capped by Greggs disastrous one-third of an inning.

After getting Jason Varitek to fly out to open the ninth, he issued back-to-back walks to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, giving the Sox and Gonzalez the advantage in the situation. Gonzalez wasted no time taking advantage, with a first-pitch, game-winning double. It was Greggs third blown save of the season.

THE TURNING POINT:
Despite the ninth-inning dramatics, the momentum of the game changed in the sixth inning. Until that point, the Sox had been unable to get on the scoreboard. But, down by six runs, they scored five in the inning, sending 10 batters to the plate. With starter Chris Tillman out of the game, the Os used three relievers in the inning.

With Michael Gonzalez on the mound, J.D. Drew opened with a single to left-center, taking second on an error by Luke Scott. Jed Lowrie doubled to right, scoring Drew. Carl Crawford reached on a Mark Reynolds error, with Lowrie going to third. Jason Varitek singled, scoring Lowrie. Ellsbury lined out, bringing in Jeremy Accardo to replace Gonzalez. Dustin Pedroia flied out. Adrian Gonzalez singled to left, scoring Crawford. Kevin Youkilis doubled off the wall in left, scoring Varitek and Gonzalez. Clay Rapada replaced Accardo and gave up a walk to David Ortiz before Drew grounded out.

The five runs in the inning match a season high for the Sox.

STAT OF THE DAY: 21-20

For the first time this season the Sox are above .500. They did it with a season-high 15 hits. After starting the season 2-10, they are 19-10 since.

QUOTE OF NOTE:

I actually thought we deserved to win that game. We battled back. We had some really good at-bats. We werent rewarded for all of them. And we kept battling, and something good happened. A tough game to win.

Theres something to be said for just continuing to play. And we got to hit last, and we had a really good hitter at the plate.

--Red Sox manager Terry Francona on his teams 8-7 walk-off win against the Orioles Monday night at Fenway Park

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.