Pedro Martinez is back with the Boston Red Sox

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Pedro Martinez is back with the Boston Red Sox

From Comcast SportsNetBOSTON (AP) -- Former Boston manager Terry Francona gave Pedro Martinez a big hug along with some advice to help him in his new job as a special assistant to the Red Sox general manager."Now he's going to have to be on time," Francona needled his former pitcher on Thursday when the two were reunited at the annual dinner of the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.A three-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star who spent seven seasons in Boston, Martinez returned to the city where he had his best years. His role is still undefined -- he has the same title as former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek -- but Martinez said he would be willing to help with the pitchers, work in the minor leagues and generally be a friend to GM Ben Cherington."Varitek, Pedro -- they are the Red Sox," said Francona, the current Cleveland Indians manager who received the prestigious Judge Emil Fuchs Award, named after the former Boston Braves owner, for long and meritorious service to baseball.Other award winners included:--Miguel Cabrera, the Ted Williams Award as baseball's best hitter.--Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles, major league manager of the year.--Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals, major league executive of the year.--R.A. Dickey, the Tony Conigliaro Award for fighting through adversity.--Dustin Pedroia, the Thomas A. Yawkey Award for Red Sox most valuable player.--Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox pitcher of the year.--Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox rookie of the year.--Cody Ross, the Tommy McCarthy Good Guy Award.--Mike Aviles, the Jackie Jensen Award for spirit and desire.Martinez spent his first day back on the Boston masthead at a lunch with Cherington, new Red Sox manager John Farrell, CEO Larry Lucchino and Boston Mayor Tom Menino and some civic leaders. Martinez said Menino had been welcoming to him when he first arrived in Boston in 1998 and once again was forthcoming with advice about where to live and what to do in the city."Menino was a friend to me," Martinez said.Martinez was acquired from the salary-dumping Montreal Expos after the 1997 season, a few months before he would be awarded his first Cy Young. He instantly became the ace of the Red Sox staff, the biggest character in a colorful clubhouse and a key part of the team that won the 2004 World Series to end the franchise's 86-year title drought.Martinez said his experience with the team during that era can help players who are trying to recover from last season's last-place finish."There was something missing, in the clubhouse, the players, around Fenway. This offseason, they realized that they lost something," Martinez said, noting that the addition of Farrell as manager and players such as Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. "We have the right group of people. These guys coming in have great, great character."Martinez, who's now 41, went 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA in Boston. His .760 winning percentage is the best in franchise history, and he ranks third with 1,683 in strikeouts and sixth with 117 wins in a Red Sox uniform. He is also the franchise's all-time leader with 80 postseason strikeouts; in the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway Park, he struck out the first four batters he faced.In an 18-year major league career with the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies, Martinez went 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts. He has a career .687 winning percentage, and he led the majors in ERA five times, including 1997 when he had a 1.90 ERA with Montreal."I am thrilled to be returning to this organization and to the city I love," Martinez said. "It is an honor to be back with the Red Sox and help in any way I can. I am grateful to our leaders; I believe in them, and I thank them for allowing me to return to the field and help us win again."My heart will always live in Boston."Also Thursday, the Red Sox signed left-hander Craig Breslow to a two-year contract with a club option for 2015. Breslow had been eligible for salary arbitration. Breslow went 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 63 appearances for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Twenty of the 23 appearances the Yale graduate made in Boston were scoreless.

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.

 

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”