Valentine focuses on keeping opposing runners at first

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Valentine focuses on keeping opposing runners at first

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester spent a good chunk of time Sunday morning working to perfect his pickoff move to first and it would surprise no one is the rest of the Red Sox pitching staff was instructed to do the same over the next few weeks.

Manager Bobby Valentine believes the Sox' pitchers need to do a better job controlling the running game.

Asked, based on video and reports, how well the Sox did in that regard last seasons, Valentine didn't mince words: "Not very well," he said without hesitation.

"Statistically, it would be fair to say, we were the worst in our division, 14th in baseball and eighth in the American League. It depends on how you determine that."

Valentine singled out lefty reliever Franklin Morales (four pickoffs) and Lester (four) as two Boston pitchers who did well. Others, such as Josh Beckett, against whom opposing base stealers were 31-for-34 despite 83 throws over to first.

Speaking about the team's success rate as a whole, Valentine concluded: "I would say it could be worked on. It's part of this program, spring training."

Valentine said improvement is essential, since two division opponents -- Tampa Bay and Toronto -- ran with abandon last season and aren't likely to be any less aggressive this season.

"There are a couple of other teams in the Central who can advance 90 (feet)," he said. "I'm all with guys (who say), 'Hey, you don't get any points for getting to second -- I'm getting the hitter out.' I get that."

Indeed, former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was just such an advocate, arguing that it was more important to focus on the batter rather than be distracted by being pre-occupied with the runner. Farrell advised against using the slide step for some pitchers, worrying that the quality of the pitches suffered as a result.

"I don't like anything," Valentine said, "including a divided concentration, that would limit or minimize in any way the pitchers' ability to get the hitter out. Most bio-mechanical studies say that if you pitch out of the stretch quickly and correctly, your stuff will not be diminished.

"Part of the whole program is that you will vary your look to the plate, but never diminish your stuff."

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady can be his own worst critic. That's why last week, after beating the Texans in the Divisional Round to move on to the AFC title game, he wasn't thrilled. He didn't play up to his standards. The offense struggled at points. He wore his frustration like a five o'clock shadow.

Winning is not everything for Brady, most weeks. He has an idea of how he should perform, how the Patriots offense should perform, and when those ideals aren't met, he's generally displeased. 

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

On Sunday, after beating up on the Steelers, 36-17, that wasn't the case. It was a sound performance, but it wasn't perfect. It was explosive at times, but it shined a light on areas where the Patriots will need to continue to improve. 

Despite its imperfections, Sunday was no time to brood about plays missed or lessons learned the hard way. Screw it, Brady seemed to say. They were going to the Super Bowl. It was OK to smile.  

"It was a good day," Brady said. "I mean, we're going to the Super Bowl, man. [Expletive], you've got to be happy now."

The Super Bowl berth is the ninth in franchise history -- more than any other club -- and the seventh with Brady and coach Bill Belichick. By throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing, Brady tied Joe Montana for the most postseason games (nine) with three touchdown passes. 

Brady will also claim the record for Super Bowls played when he and the Patriots head to Houston. And if they win, he'll tie Charles Haley for most Super Bowl wins for a player (five).

Those are lofty numbers made even more significant, perhaps, due to the fact that Brady wasn't allowed to start this season as his team's quarterback. He was asked during Sunday's postgame press conference if it was personally satisfying to get back to the Super Bowl despite having to serve a four-game suspension due to Deflategate.

"Well, that's because of the hard work of a lot of people from my coaches to my teammates to our families that support us," he said. "It takes a lot of people, a lot of hard work and a lot of effort over the course of many months. This didn't start at 6:40 tonight.

"This thing started in April. It really started before that in free-agency when we were picking up guys like [Chris] Hogan and drafting guys like Malcolm Mitchell and guy who were in rehab like [LeGarrette Blount] and [Dion Lewis] and [James Develin] and Nate [Solder]. It's a lot of hard work. There are only two teams left standing, and I'm happy we're one of them."

They're going to the Super Bowl. He has to be happy now.