Sox head back home

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Sox head back home

The last time the Sox walked off the field at Fenway, they'd hit rock bottom.

Blowing a 9-1 lead to the Yankees on National TV will do that to a team.

But in the nine days since, the Sox have somewhat quietly caught their balance. They left at 4-10, losers of five straight. They return tonight against the A's at 10-11, winners in six of their last seven and clamoring to make the final push past .500.

The fact that they've only beaten the Twins and White Sox is somewhat of a buzzkill, but at this stage in the season, a win's a win; and the Sox are finally putting a few together.

Over this stretch, we've seen Bard and Lester throw back-to-back gems. Alfredo Aceves convert three one-run saves. Franklin Morales settle into the set-up role. Josh Beckett make two very good starts (if you don't count the first inning). Meanwhile, the offense (despite being silenced over the last two games) finally clicked, scoring 10 runs in three of the first five games on the trip, and Nick Cafardo made reference to Cody Ross "jerking out" a home run. Amazing!

On the flip side, Carl Crawford's recovery hit another snag, and Bobby Valentine continues to do things that make you wonder how closely he's paying attention, but when you think about where this team was on April 21 (giving up 14 runs in the last three innings against the Yankees) and where they are now (coming off a seven-game trip where they gave up 23 runs, total), why not be a little optimistic? At the very least, it's something for this team to build on.

After three against the A's, Boston has three against the Orioles (the Buffalo Bills of the American League) who should be ready to come back to Earth. After that, the Sox face Kansas City, Cleveland and Seattle. There are some solid teams on that list, but those are all winnable games for the Sox. In fact, they don't have another big time test until they head down to Tampa on May 16. These next two weeks put the Sox in a position to finally find some real momentum.

Tonight, Clay Buchholz is on the mound, looking to turn around his awful season and kick start the home stand.

Here's hoping he stays away from Yoenis Cespedes.

Or if not, that you didn't park your car in the lot behind the Monster.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

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Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

This hasn’t been easy for Malcolm Butler. None of it. He’s never been given anything. Hell, at times he’s pissed his future away. But with a tenacity that reminds you of a certain 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Butler has fought his way back, into college, into the pros and, in 2015 and 2016, into the upper echelon of NFL cornerbacks. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champ, making arguably the most memorable play in the history of that game.

He should be drinking in the adulation, savoring an incredible start to his career and a very lucrative future. Instead, he’s in both professional and Patriots purgatory. Free agency beckons but there’s a season to play, and as this is the only professional team he’s known, a burning desire to be recognized as an important piece, not just in the present, but the future of this organization as well.
 
One of his closest friends on the team, Dion Lewis, calls Butler a warrior. “The game means so much to him.”

Another teammate, fellow defensive back Devin McCourty said of Butler, “This is what he does. He competes.”

Duron Harmon insists that the 27-year-old corner has been the same guy he’s always been. Actually, they all say that. But clearly, the coaching staff sees something different, leading to Butler’s demotion Sunday in New Orleans. 
 
Bill Belichick has been short when talking about Butler dating all the way back to the spring. That hasn’t changed now that the games count. He’s dismissed past performance. All that matters is how you’re playing now. Butler has not established that same level. Why? There is no easy answer.
 
The lack of a new contract cuts deeply. The unsettling offseason -- was he going to be a Saint? -- left quite a mark as well. But Butler came back to Foxboro with purpose, reporting for voluntary workouts. He was hell-bent on proving to all -- Belichick included -- that he was still the lead dog, not Stephon Gillmore, despite the $31 million dollars in guaranteed money the organization forked over to the former Buffalo Bill.
 
That strategy worked for a time. Butler was one of the Pats best players in training camp, right up until the joint practices with the Texans midway through August. What happened? Butler doesn’t know. But one mistake became two. His play in the preseason game with Houston was poor. His confidence suffered. He started pressing. That didn’t help. Butler was just as bad at Detroit. The kid that had always answered a knockdown with one of his own, instead wobbled to his feet. The inconsistencies were evident in practice but the "he's-Malcolm-he'll-fix-it" thought process that teammates echoed didn’t prove true, at least not entirely.
 
According to Eric Rowe, the cornerbacks were informed of the role change at the beginning of last week. But other teammates said they didn’t realize Butler wasn’t starting until the walkthrough Saturday. The ensuing fallout wasn’t surprising -- HE’S MALCOLM BUTLER, SUPER BOWL HERO, DAMMIT -- but the worry around the team has been justified because Butler takes things to heart. His swagger comes from the game. That was stripped away prior to the game against the Saints, and even at the beginning of this week, leading into the Texans game. Butler had to get his head right. If his meeting with the media Thursday is an indication, he has.

But the proof is in the play. Butler has always known that. And while his play didn’t warrant a role reduction, another message has been sent by the powers that be in Foxboro. What happens next is all on Butler. His future depends on it.

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

FOXBORO -- Anyone hoping to see Vincent Valentine make his season debut got some bad news Friday. 

Valentine, who has been inactive for both of the Patriots' first two games with a knee injury, was placed on injured reserve. ESPN's Field Yates was first to report the news.

With Valentine on IR, Geneo Grissom was added to the roster from the practice squad. ESPN's Mike Reiss had that one first:

Valentine, whom the Pats chose 96th overall in 2016, has not been practicing with the team as he's dealt with the knee injury.

A third-round pick of the Pats in 2015, Grissom was released by the team in September and signed to the practice squad a day later.