Damn you, Truck Day


Damn you, Truck Day

By Rich Levine

Writing about the Red Sox on Truck Day feels a little dirty.

In fact, even typing the words Truck Day! has me gagging like Ace Ventura after Einhorn turned out to be Finkle. I need a shower, and a hell of a lot of gum (for my, um, fingers?).

But talking about Truck Day in a column like this doesnt only hurt my own well-being, it also affects the future of our fair city. To recognize Sox ownerships made-up celebration of all things equipment is to encourage those who dont need it.

Its like if you got an e-mail from a friend saying:

Hey, just checking in to let you know Ive given myself a new nickname. I will now be called The Gun Show. Thanks, and Ill see you this weekend! The Gun Show

Are you ever going to call this guy The Gun Show? Of course not. If you did, youd just be fueling his ridiculous fire and increasing the likelihood that he takes this, and other annoying ideas, to an even less bearable level.

Likewise, every time we mention made-up Truck Day, were lining ourselves up for more cruel and over-glamorized guck. Talk it up enough and the next thing you know NESN green lights a weekly reality show where different trucking companies vie for Larry Lucchinos love. The Sox throw a black-tie banquet (hosted by the RemDawg!) to celebrate the signing of the trucking lease. Wally gets his Class A license and drives the damn thing himself. This is already ridiculous, and it will only get worse. Especially when you consider that all those trucks even do is drive straight to Logan and unload everything onto the freight of a 747.

(OK, not true. But that would be hilarious.)

So, anyway, let me just try and nullify my previous Truck Day references by saying that this: Truck Day is a joke. And not even a funny one. Imagine Margaret Cho saying Truck Day. Yes, that bad.

But let me also say this: Im still going to write about the Red Sox. Not because it was Truck Day, but because it was Tuesday; because in 2011, you dont need a sappy excuse to write or get excited about this team. After an offseason like that, sometimes you just do it.

Its been a while since weve felt that. Since weve counted down the days to spring training with this kind of over-riding optimism and excitement.

In fact, Im not sure theres ever been a wpring training that matches 2011 on that optimismexcitement combo scale.

If there was one it would have to be post-2004, right? Because any year prior (regardless of how good we tried to convince ourselves things were) was somewhat jaded by the shadow of Babe Ruths ass.

And if you take a look at the post-curse years:

Heading into Spring Training 2005, everyone was still riding high, but the departure of Pedro (especially) and to a lesser extent Derek Lowe, Orlando Cabrera and Cesar Crespo served as turds in an otherwise delicious punch bowl.

It cant be 2006, after the early playoff exit and our own personal Jesus signing a deal with the Devil.

In the winter of 2007, Dice-K offered a special brand of never-before-seen excitement and positivity, but that was off-set by the more than 100 million invested in J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo.

In 2008? Yeah, maybe that winter comes close to rivaling this one. But Boston was far more spoiled back then. The Sox had just won. The new Big Three was up and running. The Pats lost only one little game all season (yikes). There was excitement heading into the 2008 season, but there was so much other wild success that it didnt carry the same weight.

And neither did either of the last two winters. Not unless you have a forbidden fetish for guys named Ramon Ramirez. (They acquired two of them.)

But this year?

This is it. This is the top of the mountain.

As soon as Opening Day hits and the real drama of 162-plus starts to play out, all that changes. As the season begins, new storylines and unfortunate injuries (Oh dont worry about Jacoby, its just a bruised rib Everyone, April 10) start to unfold, and jade us, well adjust accordingly. But for now: What is there to complain about? What is there to keep you from unconditionally believing in this team? (If you said, Truck Day, you win.) Not the bats. Not the defense. Not the speed. Not personalities.

You can worry about the starting pitching, but take solace in the fact that theyve got one of, if not, the deepest staff in the league. You can worry about Papelbon but also conveniently remind yourself that the Sox have TWO other closers in the bullpen. You can worry about J.D. Drew but . . . OK, you got me there. But the point is that right now, the overall excitement and optimism have never been higher. Not that the expectations change much from year to year, but this time it just feels more attainable. Right from the start. The Sox are for real again. And, even better, as the team made its offseason killings (did I mention they grabbed two pretty decent free agents?), their two fiercest rivals were simultaneously wounded. When it came to free agency, the Rays and Yankees flopped like Manu Ginobili in the lane.

The Rays biggest moves were bringing in two elderly gentlemen (one man, one martian) who used to play in Boston, and trading or parting ways with a good deal of other talent. After three years of playing very competitive baseball, the Rays are on the way out. Trying to talk their fans into Johnny Damon the older, but skilled outfielder who still has some left in the tank the same way Theo did with Mike Cameron. Rays fans would be a little more frightened by that analogy if Rays fans existed.

And the Yankees? They look even worse because at least Tampa was resigned to having a somewhat somber offseason. The Yankees went after it. The Yankees pulled out all the stopsand lost. Now, theyre in greater limbo than any point since the start of the dynasty. Now they spend the off-season trying to talk fans into Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon the same way Theo did with John Smoltz and . . . Bartolo Colon. And Sox fans are just left to sit back and smile.

Not because a bunch of 18-wheelers are currently crawling down 95 South, but because this was the offseason Boston's been waiting for. The one that you can't help but think will be responsible for the Sox next trip to the Series.

Assuming you can get there by truck.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

NCAA TOURNAMENT: South Carolina headed to Final Four, beats Florida 77-70


NCAA TOURNAMENT: South Carolina headed to Final Four, beats Florida 77-70

NEW YORK - It's only right that South Carolina's first trip to Final Four was earned through its defense.

A team known for a swarming zone used it effectively down the stretch to beat Florida 77-70 on Sunday and win the East Regional at Madison Square Garden.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 26 points for the seventh-seeded Gamecocks (26-10) against the fourth-seeded Gators (27-9) in the all-Southeastern Conference matchup.

South Carolina will face Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday at Glendale, Arizona.

"Gamecock Nation, we heard you loud and clear," coach Frank Martin roared as the team prepared to cut down the nets. "We'll see you in Phoenix."

The game was as close as expected until the final minute. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55.

Thornwell, the regional MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a 4-point lead. It seemed Thornwell, who scored eight straight points for the Gamecocks, was always where he needed to be including making a steal with 40 seconds left that turned into a 73-68 lead.

"I just made plays," Thornwell said. "Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays."

"Thornwell was just being Thornwell," Florida coach Mike White said of the SEC player of the year. "He's one of the best players in the country."

PJ Dozier added 17 points for the Gamecocks, Chris Silva had 13 and Kotsar 12.

It all totaled to a Final Four trip for Martin, he of the booming voice and terrifying faces.

Justin Leon had 18 points for the Gators who managed a 40-33 halftime lead on 7-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. But that was it. Florida was 0 for 14 from beyond the arc in the second half, a lot like the 0-for-17 effort the Gators had in their first meeting with South Carolina this season.

South Carolina, which forced Florida into 16 turnovers, finished 23 for 31 from the free throw line, including a 9-for-10 effort from Thornwell.

Nash stepping up when Bruins need him most


Nash stepping up when Bruins need him most

BROOKLYN -- It took most of his first season in Boston, but Riley Nash is hitting his groove with the Bruins at exactly the right time.

Nash came up huge in a must-win game Saturday night against the Islanders, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Isle. The unheralded Nash and equally unheralded backup goalie Anton Khudobin were the two most important performers in the tight, playoff-style win that snapped a four game losing streak while pushing the B's back into playoff position.

"That's part of [a big win], right? Big performances,” said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "Generally you look to your best players, but [Nash] did a really good job. He's got a sneaky shot, so hopefully he uses it a little bit more. You can't say enough about those goals. We needed them tonight.

"Generally our top guns have been good offensively and have come through. But tonight it was the lesser lights for us in terms of offense, so good for us.”

Both Nash goals were titanic. The first came on the first shift following the Islanders goal in the first period. The fourth-line winger stripped Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield in the neutral zone and then flipped a shot past Thomas Greiss to the short side that tied the game at 1-1. Then in the third period, Dominic Moore hit Nash in stride as he sped into the offensive zone, and Nash weaved through defenders before sneaking one past Greiss for the game-winner.

The two goals give Nash four goals and six points in 21 games since the All-Star break, in line with his normal offensive output during his NHL career, and a step up from the three goals and nine points in his first 52 games this season.

The affable Nash was more than happy to contribute in a big win, and enthused at seeing the offense finally starting to flow on a semi-regular basis when the Bruins can really use it.

"It's quite the output as opposed to the season I've had so far, so I'll take it and be happy that we won the game,” said Nash. "I think everyone in here knew that was the biggest game of the year. It was going to be a really big uphill battle if we lost that one.

"Both teams came out desperate in a pretty tight, playoff-style game, but that's what it's going to be like for the rest of the season. So we've got to hunker down and take it one game at a time as the saying goes.”

With the Bruins third line fading a bit in these tight, physical games where players have to battle for their ice, it's been vital that Boston's fourth line step up and provide big minutes at both ends of the ice. Nash and Co. did more than that on Saturday night by potentially saving the season with his biggest, best game in a Bruins uniform.