Do the Sox still rate?


Do the Sox still rate?

By Michael Felger

Three thoughts for you as we exit the black hole of the sporting universe . . .

1. After going "all in" this offseason, Red Sox ownership is about to see whether their investments were enough to recapture the sporting buzz in Boston. And by that I don't mean simply garnering attention. The Sox will certainly do that. I'm talking about making a mark the way they used to -- where the Sox were Page One news and everything else (including NBA and NHL playoffs) took a back seat.

The first glimpse will come with the television ratings. If they aren't through the roof starting in Texas on Friday and carrying through the Yankees series in two weeks, then that will be an early indication that Boston has become more like everywhere else, where football-type ratings are actually reserved for football.

On the field, the Red Sox will unquestionably be more interesting than their predecessors the last few years. They'll entertain with a combination of power, speed and depth. The pitching has some question marks, but while Josh Beckett, Diasuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks could all have their problems, roller coasters are fun, aren't they? From a pure baseball standpoint, I don't see how the Sox won't be compelling this season -- even (or especially) if they struggle.

Off the field, however, it looks like this Red Sox team is no more entertaining than the button-down outfits of the last three years. This is no band of idiots. And even players who would normally fit that description (Papelbon, Beckett, Jenks, etc.) have been muted. In that way, the Sox remain built in Theo Epstein's image. Adrian Gonzalez is no Mo Vaughn, which is a great thing in terms of baseball but still not the ticket if Tom Werner is more concerned with his reality show than his starting nine.

Then again, maybe those days are simply gone for good. Even if the Sox had compelling personalities, even if they had a Pedro or a Mo Vaughn or even a Johnny Damon, would they be able to achieve that hold over us they used to? Not sure. Something tells me that ship has sailed. We tracked Matsuzaka's plane across the continent on our computers four years ago. We have no idea how Carl Crawford arrived for his presser. Times have changed.

Or have they? We'll begin to find out this weekend.

2. One question that remains from the on-going Max Pacioretty story is how the Canadiens players themselves have been affected by it. Some of them expressed disappointment in Mark Recchi's comments last week in Boston, but if they were truly outraged by them, then they sure haven't used it as fuel on the ice.

The Habs are in a free fall. They've been shut out in three straight games for the first time since 1949. They quit in Boston last Thursday and then followed that up with an 18-shot dud against the Caps on Saturday.

Not exactly rallying for the cause, is it?

It seems like just the opposite, which is why I wonder if there are players in the Montreal locker room who have actually been turned off by the hysteria that resulted from the Pacioretty hit. After all, if Zdeno Chara is going to be arrested for his check on Pacioretty, what is defenseman Hal Gill thinking? He sent the Islanders Jon Sim into the turnbuckle last December with nearly the same kind of hit. Is it safe to say Gill probably believes the police investigation is a bit much?

Or what about the players there who know what a "severe" concussion really means? Canadiens players are well aware that just 24 hours after the hit Pacioretty didn't even have a headache.

Is it possible that they've been as soured by the actions of their organization, fans and media as the rest of the hockey world?

Just asking.

3. I know I've done this many, many times before, but it is at times like these that I just can't help myself.

It's hard to tell who the bigger frauds are -- the Montreal media or the Green Teamers around here.

If you had asked Tanguay, Dickerson, Holley, Maxwell, et all, over the summer if the Celtics should swap out Kendrick Perkins for Shaquille O'Neal (which is essentially what the Perk-Jeff Green trade has boiled down to, largely because the pieces the C's added have done nothing to improve the offense) you would be laughed out of the room. To a man, they would tell you Perkins' role was underappreciated and essential to what the Celtics do as a team. They would tell you Shaq is too old, too out of shape, too selfish to fit with the C's.

Now, of course, they have resorted to exaggerating the other side's argument, which is all they have. No one ever said Perkins was Bill Russell. We only said he was an important part of what the C's were as a team. That's T-E-A-M. Ubuntu. All that. And here's the kicker:

We believed that because the Green Teamers told us! We got it from them.

But as soon as the team did an about-face, they reversed course as well. Embarrassing.

Here's all I know: The Celtics have not been better since the trade. They've lost home-court to Chicago and are on the verge of losing it to Miami, too. They were the odds-on favorite to win the title at the deadline, and now we wonder if they can get out of the East. Maybe Shaq will return and they'll get their act together -- just like they did last year. But if that doesn't happen, I wonder what the spin will be. Right now, it's Rondo's fault. Soon it will be Pierce's.

But here's one thing you can take to the bank: It will never be Danny's.

I await the next round of talking points.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.