May 21, 2011: Cubs 9, Red Sox 3

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May 21, 2011: Cubs 9, Red Sox 3

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- "They said the world was going to end today?" a rueful Terry Francona said Saturday night. "It felt like it in the eighth inning."

Hard to argue from a Red Sox point of view.

In one of the ugliest innings of this (or any) season, the Sox gave up five hits and two walks, committed two Little League errors, and allowed the Cubs to score eight runs in the eighth inning, turning a 3-1 Boston lead into a 9-3 Cubs victory at Fenway Park.

Francona said the team had decided before the weekend to rest Daniel Bard on Friday and Saturday -- "We've been leaning on him too much recently" -- and thus the eighth inning, which is normally Bard Time, was entrusted to Matt Albers. Albers failed to retire any of the six batters he faced (and in fact allowed all of them to score) and newly acquired Franklin Morales wasn't a whole lot better (two hits, two runs).

"The rest will do Bard a world of good," said Francona. "It didn't do us a world of good tonight."

The Sox had built their lead on the strength of a two-run homer by David Ortiz in the fourth inning and an RBI single by Jacoby Ellsbury in the sixth. But they squandered chance after chance to increase the lead -- they stranded 11 runners through the first seven innings and were their usual putrid selves (1-for-9) with runners in scoring position -- and left themselves vulnerable for the type of comeback the Cubs mounted in the eighth.

And that comeback was aided by Albers, who allowed back-to-back singles, back-to-back walks, and a two-run double to the first five batters he faced; shortstop Jed Lowrie, who dropped a popup hit by the sixth and final batter Albers faced and allowed another run to score; and third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who flubbed a throw on a rundown from catcher Jason Varitek that resulted in two more Chicago runs, turning a 6-3 game into an 8-3 game.

As a result, the Sox missed a chance to move into first place in the A.L. East, as they couldn't capitalize on Tampa Bay's loss to Florida.

Player of the Game: Starlin Castro

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was 0-for-3 heading into the eighth inning, but he played a key role with two hits in Chicago's eight-run rally. His first -- a single after Darwin Barney had led off with a single -- set the table, putting runners at first and second with no outs for the 4-5-6 hitters. And his second, a double over the head of left fielder Carl Crawford, drove in Kosuke Fukudome with Chicago's final run.

Castro now has 61 hits, third in the major leagues, and lifted his average to .326.

Honorable Mention: Alfredo Aceves

Hard to "honor" someone from a team that lost 9-3, but Alfredo Aceves qualifies. Thrust into the rotation by the injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, he worked five strong innings in his first start of the season, allowing only three hits and one run. He did his job, departing after 86 pitches and handing the bullpen a 3-1 lead.

"He gave us a little bit more than we could have asked for," said Terry Francona. "He gave us a good chance to win the game."

The Goat: Matt Albers

Who else? Poor Matt Albers saw his ERA jump from 1.56 to 4.15 with a 0-inning, 3-hit, 6-run, 2-walk disaster.

"Obviously I knew with Bard down tonight I was probably going to have the eighth inning and it worked out great, we had the lead to that point," said Albers. "I just didnt do my job."

With Bard unavailable, the Sox, who had already used Dan Wheeler and Rich Hill earlier in the game, were down to two pitchers -- Franklin Morales and Jonathan Papelbon -- behind Albers. So when the inning (very quickly) started to unravel, Terry Francona felt he had little choice but to stick with Albers.

"We only had Pap and Morales," Francona said. "If we were fortunate enough to tie the game in the eighth and bring in Papelbon for the ninth, if they'd used Morales in the eighth there's nobody else behind Papelbon. That's why Albers had to get them out."

Except he didn't.

Turning Point: Youkilis' botched catch

It was still close at 6-3 when Darwin Barney came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth. He hit a fly ball to J.D. Drew in medium-deep right field, and the runner on third, Alfonso Soriano, went about a third of way down the line and decided not to test Drew's arm. However, the runner on second, Jeff Baker, thought Soriano was going, so he tagged and headed to third.

Catcher Jason Varitek took Drew's throw and saw both Soriano and Baker near third base. He fired the ball to third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who only had to tag Soriano and get the Sox out of the inning trailing by three runs.

But Youkilis botched the throw. It went off his glove and into left field, allowing both Soriano AND Baker to score. A 6-3 game had turned into an 8-3 game, and the Sox were done.

By the Numbers: 47

The number of pitches thrown by Matt Albers and Franklin Morales during the Cubs' eight-run rally in the eighth.

Quote of Note:

"The eighth inning really unraveled. We dropped balls, we threw them away . . . it just got a little bit ugly."

-- Terry Francona, slightly understating Chicago's eight-run eighth.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Belichick: Garoppolo to get starter reps in 'comprehensive process' to prepare for season

Belichick: Garoppolo to get starter reps in 'comprehensive process' to prepare for season

FOXBORO -- In his precamp media address Wednesday afternoon, Bill Belichick indicated that with Tom Brady down for the month of September, backup Jimmy Garoppolo will get the majority of reps to get him ready for the start of the season.

Belichick also noted that when Brady returns he will be the team’s starter, which will preemptively shuts down the “Will Brady get Brady-ed” storyline if Garoppolo happens to light it up for the first four weeks.

“We finally have some definition with Tom’s situation, so our priority now is to get Jimmy ready for the start of the season for the Arizona game (on September 11),” Belichick said. “That will obviously be a comprehensive process. Tom will return as the starting quarterback when he comes back. But in the meantime we have to prioritize the first part of our schedule and that will be to get Jimmy ready to go.”

Asked his reaction to the conclusion of the ordeal, Belichick said, “No commentary on it. We just know that’s what we have to work with and that’s what we’re doing.”

Belichick said he wasn’t daunted by the specter of getting three quarterbacks -- Brady, Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett -- in working order over the next month-and-a-half, saying, “I think we have a good situation. We have three players we want to work with. Around the league, look at some other teams. Maybe they don’t have anyone, maybe they have one. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Good relative to other teams? Certainly, over the long haul. Good in the short term? That’s a bit of spin.

Belichick got a bit weary after some decent initial questions from TV’s own Dan Hausle descended into obtuse badgering. That was the only real show of exasperation and it was neither unexpected nor inexcusable.

As for Garoppolo’s improvement, Belichick said, “We could sit here and talk about it for a day. Everything.”

Toward the end of the press conference, I asked if the Deflategate swirl was ever onerous to him or the team.

“Really, I never dealt with it,” Belichick said. “Until a decision had been made, it . . . was in some version of litigation, appeal, appeal depending on how the litigation goes. I mean, it’s been in the same place for a year-and-a-half . . .  

"So there’s definition to it now. We’ll move forward now based on that definition.”

After practice, Patriots head to The Hills

After practice, Patriots head to The Hills

FOXBORO -- If you're one of the thousands of fans who will make their way here for training camp at some point this summer, there's a good chance you'll see the Patriots finish up a session by disappearing briefly over a ridge in the back corner of the Gillette Stadium practice fields. 

By the time they reappear for interviews or autographs, they'll be drenched with sweat and out of breath.

"Mount Belichick," Bill Belichick said after one particularly grueling workout last year. "That's what they called it back in Cleveland."

Patriots players haven't taken the time to name the New England version, probably because no one really likes to think about it all that much in their free time. But unofficially, the space is known as The Hills. Oftentimes there's an expletive mixed in. 

This out-of-sight slice of the team's work space can be a year-round tool, but it has seen regular usage every summer since it was installed about four years ago. For an organization that harps on the importance of being able to outlast opponents, running The Hills is believed to be a difference-maker. 

"That hill's great," director of player personnel Nick Caserio told Sirius XM Radio recently. "That hill gets them in shape pretty quickly. Those guys don't like it, but they'll probably in the fourth quarter realize it's worthwhile."

"It definitely teaches you how to become comfortable with being uncomfortable," receiver Danny Amendola said. "It's a beast, for sure."

There are actually two hills on the south end of the practice fields that slope down to a concrete landing with a storage bin that can hold field-goal posts, tackling dummies and other implements of the game. 

Both hills have different gradations. One is 20 yards long and steep. The other is 60 yards long and features more of a gradual incline. 

Neither provides any escape from the heat, but these are not the dry and rocky hills with treacherous footing that you might find on in an old-school training camp video montage. No, these hills are as well-manicured as the rest of the Patriots practice fields, with white lines painted on every five yards so that players know just how much farther they have to go when their legs are pleading with them to stop. 

The mere mention of The Hills to players during last summer's training camp was usually met with shaking heads and nervous laughter. 

"It's a little bit of a drain, but it's kind of like taking medicine," said left tackle Nate Solder. "You know you need it."

"The Hills are a beast, man," said former Patriots receiver Brian Tyms. "It's like that one bully you have in school. You're like, 'I hope he doesn't mess with me today.' That's what that's like. It's just the incline of it. It's real. It makes a man out of you.

"Jerry Rice. They said he ran a 4.7 but he could run a 4.7 every play. A lot of people who run a 4.3, but in the fourth quarter they can't run a 4.3. Conditioning is like the biggest thing in football. Everybody's an athlete, but how many times can you get out and exert that same amount of effort? Every play? Same intensity? That hill helps that. After practice, in the offseason, we go at each other hard like we have pads on. We go at that hill, we have nothing left. If you can give even a bit of anything on the hill, then we get in the game, shoot, fourth quarter and teams been beating on each other, you still got another gear to go."

"It's tough. It's a challenge," said corner Logan Ryan. "I think the hill just makes you a little bit tougher. Your legs get a little heavy and then you gotta run these sprints up a hill. Your legs, you gotta keep your mind sharp. You gotta just attack it. That's how we go about it. We feel like we get an edge in conditioning over some other guys because of how hard we go at it."

The Hills won't only be reserved for these types of conditioning runs, where as many as a dozen or so players will sprint up together at the sound of a whistle that will likely be worn by first-year head strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera. They can be used for players rehabbing injuries or trying to build up speed after a long layoff. 

They provide a space for team-building purposes, too. When the Ice Bucket Challenge to benefit ALS research went viral in 2014, the team filmed its team-wide water dump at the top of The Hills. 

It's also one of the few places where players and coaches can compete side by side. Belichick hasn't run The Hills in some time, but his son, safeties coach Steve Belichick, has been seen hauling uphill. Same goes for receivers coach Chad O'Shea, corners coach Josh Boyer, defensive line coach Brendan Daly and others. 

And it does get competitive. Regardless of how difficult the players just had it during that day's practice, they're sure not to get beaten by one of their more fresh-legged coaches.

"I don't care how much I ran," Ryan said. "I've never seen a coach get past me."

At their core, though, The Hills are about conditioning. Tom Brady has been seen doing resistance-band training with team staffers on The Hills, and sometimes players will make their way over there on their own simply because they know they need the extra work. Newly-acquired Patriots defensive tackle Terrance Knighton -- who is listed at 6-foot-3, 355 pounds and has target weights written into his one-year contract -- hung back on The Hills for a few minutes of extra work with Cabrera after an OTA practice last month. 

Matthew Slater is touted by many on the team as the fastest player when it comes to their punishing post-practice sprints. He credits his work on the hill behind his childhood home in Orange, California for preparing him for success in that regard.

Similarly, despised as it may be, the time spent on the Hills behind Gillette Stadium gets a chunk of the credit for the long seasons the Patriots have had of late. 

"I think you put down the foundation in the offseason," Slater said, "in training camp, early in the season, in regards to your conditioning. That's going to have to carry you all the way through February, hopefully. That's paid dividends for us, and hopefully it'll continue to pay dividends for us."

Curran: Even Brady's absence won't be enough to halt Patriots

Curran: Even Brady's absence won't be enough to halt Patriots

Call this a companion piece to my guy Phil Perry’s well-written AFC Power Rankings. The Senator puts the Patriots at No. 1 -- even with the greatest quarterback of his (or any) generation cooling his heels in Brookline for September -- and you really can’t argue with that.

When the Patriots had their full complement of players in 2015, the gap between them and their weekly opponents was significant. They began the season with 10 straight wins. Of those, only one -- the 27-26 win at the Giants -- had a margin of victory smaller than seven points.

When the injury attrition came and the offense was reduced to a shell of itself, that’s when the losses came . . . and they still finished 12-4 (You still don’t get the Miami game? Honestly, neither do I.).

And even in the AFC Championship Game against Denver -- whose played defense at a disturbingly high level during that tight span near the end of the year and into the postseason, and undressed the Patriots offensive line -- New England still almost willed its way to SB50.

This year, the Patriots' projected Opening Day starters may be even better than they were in 2015 except for, ya know . . .

Martellus Bennett is in for Scott Chandler on offense. Defensively, Jabaal Sheard assumes the top-of-the-depth-chart role of Chandler Jones, Chris Long is now the third edge defender, Dominique Easley is out but his loss is mitigated by the addition of a run-stuffer in Terrance Knighton and the presumed maturation of Malcom Brown, Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers. The jury’s going to be out on Shea McClellin for a while but he’s better than Dane Fletcher, who was ticketed for the linebacker corps in 2015. Tarell Brown won’t be starting at corner. Bradley Fletcher won’t be chasing butterflies. Logan Ryan’s got another year of experience and the Cyrus Jones addition is intriguing on defense and special teams.

I know those are merely projections and we have no real idea who will be there against the Cardinals (Julian Edelman being my No. 1 concern), but the point is, upgrades were made.

And who else in the AFC can say that they did enough to close the gap? Within the division, the Jets are jacking around with Ryan Fitzpatrick still. Ryan Clady and Matt Forte could be upgrades and the Jets (No. 7 on Phil’s list) still have an imposing front-four, but evidence is needed. The Dolphins (No. 14) lost Olivier Vernon and have a first-year, first-time head coach. The Bills (No. 11)? Rex is already on the griddle and pressure doesn’t become him. The Steelers are No. 2 and that makes sense with the always underappreciated Ben Roethlisberger there, but LeVeon Bell’s down four games, Martavis Bryant’s down for the season and the lack of composure I saw with both Pittsburgh and No. 3 Cincy in the playoffs last year doesn’t make me a buyer on their capabilities. God bless the Raiders (No. 4), but Jack Del Rio and Derek Carr have a lot to prove.

Meanwhile, the Ravens appear in decline and the Colts retained their dysfunctional front office-sideline duo of Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. It will take a couple of bad Sundays for that to lapse back into bitterness.

So even with the head start Roger Goodell provided the rest of the league when he carried out the wishes of the Patriots rivals and chased Tom Brady down like a common criminal, it’s still not going to be enough.

I don’t think that even that will help the rest of the conference make up the stagger.

What New England’s done since 2001 is -- as a team -- Ruthian. Even the two years in that span in which the Patriots failed to make the playoffs, they finished tied for first in the AFC East in both seasons and were nosed out on tiebreakers. They’ve been to five straight conference championships. And the last time they didn’t get to the AFCCG, they were the No. 1 seed.

Ten AFCCG appearances, six Super Bowl appearances, four Super Bowl wins and still with a strength-of-roster/coaching advantage on the rest of the conference.

If not now, with Brady shut down for September, then when?