Lucic has something to prove in postseason

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Lucic has something to prove in postseason

Milan Lucic is hoping the last piece of his playoff experience this season mirrors that of last years, bathed in Stanley Cup glory. Lugging the Cup around his home city of Vancouver felt pretty good for the Bs power forward.

But his own personal playoff experience isnt something he wants to repeat. Thats because Lucic had a tough time getting the engine going last year at the end of the regular season, and that carried over into a tough start to his postseason.

Normally a big-game player, Lucic ended the season with a 10-game goal-scoring drought and smashed his toe early in the playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. That slowed down his skating speed considerably and ate into his confidence level, and No. 17 looked uncharacteristically lost while getting just a pair of assists and a zero plusminus rating in the seven-game series win over the Habs.

"It wasnt that disappointing because we still won the Cup," Lucic said. "Obviously I was good enough to help us still win. It goes to show that the only thing matters is winning and losing. I feel like Ive become a big part of the team, so you take it upon yourself as a point of pride to step up your game and bring what you bring best to the table."

That wasnt a very good time for the Bs prototypical power forward.

You definitely learn a lot from playoff experiences and take that with you to make yourself a better player. I think I definitely finished off the season a lot better than I did last year, said Lucic. I think my skating is definitely better. I played a little bit more of a physical aspect to my game this year than last year.

I remember last year I struggled the final 10 games of the regular season and then struggled the first 10 games of the playoffs. There were some confidence issues and stuff going into last years playoffs. This year I feel much better about myself and my game. Im confident I can help my team be successful.

In all Lucic managed just nine points (3 goals and 6 assists) in 18 games during the first three rounds against the Canadiens, Flyers and Lightning last season. But he did manage to find his footing in the Cup Finals. Lucic had a pair of goals in the seven-game series win over the Canucks, and his pounding physical presence knocked defenseman Dan Hamhuis out of the series early in the proceedings.

Bs coach Claude Julien doesnt see the same kind of thing repeating itself this time around. Lucic had arguably his most consistent season as an NHL player and finished with six points in the Bs final six games while getting ready for another long, bountiful run through the Eastern Conference.

Growth and experience, maturity . . . all of those things go hand-in-hand. The last couple of months hes skated as well as Ive ever seen him skate, said Julien. Thats been part of his game. Hes been able to carry the puck rather than look for a center or his other linemates to carry it up the ice. His ability to carry it up the ice with speed and cut into the net has created a lot.

Thats what Looch is all about. His forecheck, his physical presence, his strength. And hes one of those guys thats incredibly hard to stop once hes determined to go to the net.

One scary note for opponents: Lucic says he has something to prove to himself when it comes to the postseason. That means bone-rattling hits and strong plays around the net should be on the menu for Lucic and his Bruins teammates. Success usually follows that recipe.

On a personal note I feel like I have something to prove this year after what happened to me in the playoffs last year, said Lucic. But I cant be disappointed in last year because we won. But I want to do everything I can to help the team win.

Lucic with something to prove is a frightening thing indeed.

Quotes, notes and stars: Ziegler 'a Godsend' for Red Sox bullpen

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Quotes, notes and stars: Ziegler 'a Godsend' for Red Sox bullpen

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 8-7 win over the Minnesota Twins:

 
QUOTES

“We’ve come off a couple of days where we’re a pitch away or a swing of the bat away from being in a spot where we’re possibly looking at four consecutive in this series. But to pressed as we were -- give them credit they didn’t give in. They kept coming back -- they mounted some threats late.” - John Farrell said on the Red Sox the third consecutive in which they’d blown the lead.

“He’s been a Godsend to be honest. It’s a comfortable inning. The ball’s on the ground . . . He’s very calm, he’s experienced it . . . His addition here has given us a huge boost in line with the injuries to Koji [Uehara] and Craig [Kimbrel]” -  Farrell said on having Ziegler as an option.

“I’ll be honest, I get nervous when I’m watching, sixth, seventh, eighth inning of the game. I’ve picked my fingernails down too low one night. It’s a lot easier for me when I’m on the mound.” - Ziegler on dealing with his adrenaline and excitement when entering a game.

“That’s baseball. I mean, over the course of 162 games those sort of things are going to happen and you just keep battling and doing your job.” - Rick Porcello said about things not going entirely his way, despite feeling good on the mound.

“Yes. Because he threw me a changeup first pitch in my first at-bat. Sometimes you guess right.” - Hanley Ramirez said on why he was expecting a changeup from Tommy Milone that he turned into a three-run home run in the third inning

“I even didn’t know -- to be honest – that he threw over. When I was halfway I think I didn’t see like the catcher get up to throw the ball or anything so I figured maybe he threw to first. Once I saw Dozier catch it [one] way, I tried to [go] the other way. ” - Xander Bogaerts on avoiding the tag when he stole second in the fifth.

 

NOTES

* Xander Bogaerts finished 3-for-4 and has had multiple hits in nine of his last 11 contests. He leads MLB with 17 three-hit games.

* The Red Sox have now homered in 15 straight games, slugging 28 in that span.

* Hanley Ramirez has five home runs in his last five games, eight in his last 23. Over those 23 games, Ramirez is batting .337 (28-for-83) with 18 runs, seven doubles and 21 RBI to go with the eight homers.

* Three of Travis Shaw’s last four hits have been for extra bases -- 10 of his last 14 -- with the most recent being his three-run homerun Sunday. Shaw has also homered in four the last five series.

* Rick Porcello has won seven straight decisions and now has ten wins at home -- remaining undefeated at Fenway Park.

 

STARS

1) Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez slugged his fifth home run in his last five games, knocking in three runs. Sunday's DH finished 2-for-4 and scored two runs in the game.

2) Juan Centeno

Minnesota’s catcher finished 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI in the losing effort

3) Rick Porcello

Despite giving up five runs (four earned) in his 6.2 inning of work, Porcello did what he needed to do to keep Boston in the lead. Had it not been for some shaky fielding, Porcello’s numbers might have been a better representation of how he looked and felt.

Kimbrel's knee 'feels great,' pushing himself towards return

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Kimbrel's knee 'feels great,' pushing himself towards return

BOSTON -- Just before the All-Star break, it almost seemed like the Red Sox were bound to lose Craig Kimbrel for six weeks potentially with the knee damage.

However, prior to Saturday’s game, John Farrell sounded optimistic about Kimbrel return more towards the three-week timetable.

The closer has gotten back to what he was working on prior to his injury, including his breaking ball.

“I’m out there spinning the ball right now,” Kimbrel said. “My knee feels great, so I’m just working on getting back into my mechanics. Staying compact and before I hurt my knee I was working on a few things. Just getting back to focusing on [those things].”

Kimbrel also stated that his arm “feels great” which was originally a concern for the Red Sox Front Office when he was injured -- fearing the knee would somehow lead to arm problems later.

Although things seem to almost be moving too fast for Kimbrel, he feels like the process has taken too long.

“It may look like a pretty fast recovery but it feels like forever,” Kimbrel said. “I think the way some people may look at it, it might be a little fast, but I’m not doing anything that is uncomfortable. I’m pushing myself, but I’m not pushing myself to a point where it doesn’t feel good. Testing everything out, that’s kind of where it is.

“Went in there and we didn’t really fix anything. Just kind of cut some cartilage out and right now it’s [about] getting my muscles firing like they’re supposed to. That’s coming back pretty fast because we were able to keep the swelling down right after surgery, so I was able to get back into the weight room and get back to the range of motion pretty quick.”

The righty will throw his first bullpen since the surgery and his confident he’ll feel good on the mound.

In fact, he thinks he could’ve thrown off the mound Sunday, but still hasn’t tested one important responsibility of a pitcher.

“I think I could throw off the mound,” Kimbrel said. “I don’t know if I can run in from the bullpen yet. Tomorrow we’re going to get off the mound, throw a bullpen and then can start pushing off and running.

“Fielding my position and cutting -- things like that. The kind of things where if a guy bunts on me [or] if I’ve gotta cover first -- I’ve gotta be able to do things like that.”

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