Report: Decision time near for Wakefield


Report: Decision time near for Wakefield

Tim Wakefield, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, will decide this weekend a) whether or not he wants to continue playing, and if he does, b) where he'll play.

My take: The answer to a) is "Of course he does". And I believe b) should actually be worded this way: Do I go somewhere else if the Red Sox don't want me, or do I retire?

Clearly, the Red Sox don't want him; if they did, they'd have signed him by now. (There was talk early in the offseason that they were looking at Wakefield as a fallback option if they failed to acquire another starter, but they haven't brought in anybody -- except a bunch of low-percentage longshots -- and Wakefield's still unsigned.) That being the case . . . what now?

Wakefield's agent, Barry Meister, told Lauber that the 45-year-old knuckleballer "has some options", and we'll set aside our natural cynicism to believe that he's telling the truth. (Quick aside: Wouldn't you just love to hear some agent someday say, "Nobody wants my guy"?) I have to believe they're non-roster invitations to spring training. Wakefield obviously thinks he can still pitch -- all 2011 evidence to the contrary -- and if someone had offered him a contract, I believe he'd have signed it.

So does he accept the invitation? Or does he retire as a Red Sox?

It's a tough call. Like I said the other day, most ballplayers keep playing until no one wants them anymore. I won't think any less of Wakefield if he tries to hook on somewhere else.

But we're talking about a guy who's 45, who's only had two ERAs under 4.58 since 2003, and whose ERA has been in the 5.00s in each of the last two seasons. That painful march to career victory number 200 -- it took him eight tries, and the Red Sox finally had to score 18 runs for him to do it -- was as stark a piece of evidence as there could possibly be that if he's not at the finish line, he's about to trip over it. (Incidentally, he pitched 9 innings in two games after winning his 200th . . . and gave up 11 runs.) To me, there's a dignity issue at play.

Personally, I'd hang 'em up. If he does, the same Red Sox who are treating him as if he has a communicable disease these days would not only welcome him back into the family, they'd embrace him. The "Welcome Back and Welcome Always" signs would flash forever. But, of course, that'll happen -- eventually -- even if he goes to camp with St. Louis or Colorado or whoever.

In any case, it appears we'll get our answer soon enough.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1


STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl


Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.