Martinez was a risk worth taking

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Martinez was a risk worth taking

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Imagine you're walking home late from work one night, when two muggers jump out from the shadows and chase you down a dark alley.

Let's say you're pretty fast, and after a few seconds, create a little separation. You're moving like Ellsbury on the base paths, except your ribs are feeling fine. These two thugs have no clue who they're messing with. You're ready to leave them in your dust or, considering where you're running, "in your discarded pieces of alley trash" and cruise back into civilization and safety.

When all of a sudden . . . a ditch.

NStar or KeySpan or whoever was working underground, and they're not quite finished. The missing piece in the road is about seven feet wide, which means it's probably doable, but at the same time, we're not talking about hopping a little puddle here. This is a significant leap, and if you fail, you don't only end up with wet socks. You'll fall far, and hard; we're talking broken bones. Maybe worse. Meanwhile, these muggers are older, and drunker, plus they're wearing Timberlands there's no way they could make it over.

You stop for a split second to contemplate, but there isn't a lot of time.

On one hand, attempting the jump is dangerous. In a perfect world if this were just a normal day, a leisurely walk you'd see this enormous street divot and turn the other way. But now, it's either take the risk, or take on these muggers. You either adapt to the situation and roll the dice, or you say "Nah, too risky. I'll just empty my pockets and hope they don't hurt me."

They're now mere steps away. It's time to make a decision, and . . .

Pop quiz, hot shot: What do you do?

What do you do?

I can't speak for everyone, but if you're a member of the Red Sox front office, I think I know your answer.

You'd throw your money and iPhone and pray that they're gentle. You'd look at that ditch, calculate the risk, and decide it's not worth it. You'd be too worried about the potential consequences of acting a little crazy, even if the potential reward far outweighed them. You'd probably head home in one piece, but you'd be a little lighter in the wallet. That is, if you even still had one.

And you know what?

I couldn't argue with your logic; it's actually pretty sound.

You played it safe, and I understand why you did. But that doesn't mean agree with it. That doesn't mean given the circumstances that it's the decision I'd make for myself. That doesn't mean I think you're right. But I'll give it to you. You were very logical. Well done.

Do you see the difference?

OK, if you couldn't tell already, this column isn't just about an imaginary run-in with muggers. It is, of course, about the Red Sox controversial decision to offer salary arbitration to Felipe Lopez.

But seriously, it's about the fact that they just let the No. 3 hitter in their already lacking line-up leave for Detroit over a matter of 2 million a year and the fact their defense for letting him go is based on a series of very logical points, but ones that are at their most powerful in an unrealistic world.

Yes, in a perfect world, you don't want to give a lucrative contract to a catcher who isn't that great at catching, and who, with age, is only getting worse. Four years down the road, you don't want to pay 12.5 million to a 36-year-old DH. In a perfect world, you'd compile your argument, make it all nice and organized in fancy folders, sit down with V-Mart and don't get up until you can convince him why "this" is all he's worth, and that he if he ever wants to play baseball again, he has to accept.

But this world is far from perfect, and the Sox can't just meet a dangerous obstacle, shrug their shoulders and take the safe route home. They have to react. They're not alone in this alley. There are gangs of thugs from New York, Detroit and Anaheim looking to take advantage of those who want to play it safe. And they're coming after what the Sox have not to mention everything else they want.

I'm not saying that this team needs to be reckless. I'm not asking them to start jumping 30-foot ditches. I'm not saying they should go on another 2007 J.D. DrewJulio Lugo shopping spree. I'm just saying that every once in a while, when a certain situation arises, it might be worth toning down the dogmatism and breaking free from basic logic.

Because in this business, logic isn't batting 1.000.

Logic said Pedro Martinez was going to break down, and he did. Logic said Johnny Damon was going to fall off, and he didn't. Logic said Tim Lincecum would win a World Series someday. After 2005, logic sure as hell didn't say Edgar Renteria would win a World Series MVP. You just don't know.

But with Victor Martinez, we kind of do. Our instincts are pretty solid. We know he's a great player, but more importantly, that he can be great in Boston something so many acquisitions, like Drew, Lugo and Renteria never could. We know that he's getting up there in age, but that he has a few good years left; a few really good years. This isn't a Varitek in 2004 situation where the skills especially at the plate were in a clear free fall, and you knew the last year or two was going to be a mess.

Really, is there any doubt in your mind that Victor Martinez will still be a very effective DH at 36 years old? Yeah, I know, he won't be able to catch anymore, but guess what? When you're the Boston Red Sox, it's OK to pay your mid-30-something DH 12.5 million on the last year of his contract. First of all, because you have the money. Second of all, because you have the money. I mean, come on, you're doing the same thing this year!

Re-signing Victor Martinez wasn't about the Red Sox breaking the bank on a franchise cornerstone. This wasn't the kind of deal that cripples an organization, especially not this one. This four year50 million contract was merely a small risk, and a worthwhile one at that. It was a risk the Sox surely didn't want to take, but they had so much more to gain by doing so. But instead, they played it safe and let another one of their competitors reap the benefits.

And for 2 million a year.

John Henry wouldn't miss 2 million if he lost it in an alley way mugging.

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

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

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Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.

Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.

“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”

It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston. 

The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.

“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”

A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Oregon beats Kansas 74-60 to punch Final Four ticket

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: Oregon beats Kansas 74-60 to punch Final Four ticket

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Oregon lost one of its best players to an injury just before the NCAA Tournament, had to survive two nail-biters to reach the Midwest Regional finals, and then faced a top-seeded Kansas team that had romped to the brink of the Final Four.

Of course, the Ducks would rise to the occasion.

With swagger and verve and downright prolific shooting, the plucky team that everybody wanted to count out rolled to a 74-60 victory over the Jayhawks on Saturday night, earning the Ducks their first trip to the national semifinals in nearly 80 years.

"You feel so good for so many people," said Ducks coach Dana Altman, who is headed to his first Final Four after 13 trips to the NCAA Tournament. "It's a team effort. You feel good for a lot of people."

Indeed, a whole lot of people had a hand in it.

Tyler Dorsey hit six 3s and poured in 27 points, Dillon Brooks added 17 and Jordan Bell finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in a virtuoso performance for the Ducks (33-5), who seized the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed the rest of the way.

Now, they'll face the winner of Sunday's game between North Carolina and Kentucky in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona. It will be their first trip since 1939, when the Tall Firs won it all.

Player of the year candidate Frank Mason III had 21 points in his final game for the Jayhawks (31-5), but the offensive fireworks and steady poise that had carried them to a 13th straight Big 12 title fizzled just 40 minutes from campus on a night where very little went right.

Star freshman Josh Jackson was mired in early foul trouble. Sharpshooting guard Devonte Graham never got on track. And the swagger the Jayhawks showed in humiliating Purdue in the Sweet 16 simply evaporated for a team that rolled to the Elite Eight by an average margin of 30 points.

"I'm disappointed for them more than I am for me," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who fell to 2-7 in Elite Eight game, including four defeats as a No. 1 seed. "But the one thing that happened today, and it's hard to admit, the best team did win today."

The Ducks knew everything was stacked against them, but the point was only driven home when their bus passed the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City on the way to the arena. Thousands of fans in red and blue were rallying hours before the tipoff, turning it into a de facto road game.

But the torrid shooting of Brooks, Ennis and Dorsey quickly deflated the sold-out Sprint Center, and sent a warning shot to the Jayhawks that they were in for a fight.

"You've got to give them credit," Graham said. "They hit some big shots."

Foul trouble sent Jackson to the bench for much of the first half, allowing the Ducks carve to out a comfortable lead. Then Dorsey finished the half with back-to-back 3s, including a deep bank shot at the buzzer, as the Ducks pranced to their locker room relishing in a 44-33 advantage.

"When you play hard throughout the whole game," Brooks said, "you catch some breaks."

The Ducks kept dancing in the second half, beating the Jayhawks at their own game: Getting into transition, passing up good shots for better ones and knocking down 3-pointers.

The Ducks' lead swelled to 55-37 when Brooks drilled another shot from the perimeter, and frustration began to creep into the Kansas bench. It was only compounded every time Jackson or Graham tossed up a shot that clanked hollowly off the iron, the Jayhawks' sense of desperation slowly growing.

Jackson didn't score until midway through the second half, and said later he'd "never been in such a tough position." Graham was 0 for 7 from the field, missing all six of his 3s.

The Jayhawks eventually began to whittle into their deficit, doing most of the work at the free-throw line. But the Ducks kept answering just enough to keep the crowd from giving Kansas anything extra.

When Svi Mykhailiuk scored to make it 64-55, Ennis answered with a driving basket. When Mykhailiuk buried a 3 from the corner to make it 66-60 with 2:49 left, Dorsey answered at the other end with another 3-pointer as the shot-clock expired to give Oregon some breathing room.

A few minutes later, the Ducks were cutting down the nets to end a satisfying trip to Kansas City.

"The seven years we've been at Oregon, we've had great guys to work with," Altman said, "but I also feel good for all the other players, the ex-players, who have built Oregon basketball. Like we said, 1939 is a long drought, but we owe all the ex-players."