Wakefield announces retirement

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Wakefield announces retirement

One of the most remarkable, and historic, careers in Red Sox history came to an end Friday afternoon, when Tim Wakefield announced his retirement.

Wakefield, 45, who has played for the Sox for 17 years and holds the franchise records for innings pitched (3,095), appearances (590) and games started (442), held a press conference at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. He retires with exactly 200 career victories, including 186 as a member of the Red Sox . . . trailing only Roger Clemens and Cy Young, each of whom won 192.

Ex-teammate Derek Lowe, who lives in Fort Myers, attended the press conference, along with current Sox players Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Kevin Youkilis.

"This has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do. So, it is with a heavy heart that I say I have decided to retire from the game of baseball," said Wakefield, who later added: "Thank you to the Red Sox for giving me the best time of my life."

Wakefield also thanked the Red Sox fans:

"You are the greatest fans in the world. I have enjoyed every minute I have played for you. I appreciate every moment we have shared over the years and I will hold each one of you close to my heart."

A Dan Duquette free-agent pickup in 1995, after he'd been released by the Pirates, Wakefield burst onto the scene with 14 wins in first 15 decisions as a member of the Sox. He finished 18-6 with a 2.95 ERA in a performance that earned him the Comeback Player of the Year award, garnered him votes in both the Cy Young and MVP balloting, and helped Boston run away with the A.L. East crown.

That started the fourth-longest career in franchise history -- only Carl Yastrzemski (23 years), Ted Williams (19) and Dwight Evans (19) played longer in Boston -- that included more postseason appearances (eight) than any other Sox. Over the years he was a staff ace, a closer, and virtually everything in between, as he filled whatever role his managers assigned him.

Wakefield had two 17-win seasons (1998 and 2007) and one 16-win season (2005) after his '95 breakthrough, and is often cited as one of the unsung heroes of the greatest comeback in baseball history. In Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, he pitched 3 13 innings in relief during the 19-8 loss to the Yankees and was credited by manager Terry Francona with saving the bullpen and setting up the four straight wins that followed. He was the winning pitcher in Boston's 14-inning, Game 5 victory, and -- with several of his teammates -- took a bottle of champagne to the Yankee Stadium mound after Game 7 to not only toast the victory, but erase the memory of the game- and series-losing home run he'd allowed to Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

More importantly, he contributed more time and money to charity than virtually any player in Red Sox history. He won MLB's Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who "who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community", in 2010.

His last winning season was 2009, when he went 11-5 with a 4.58 ERA and earned his only All-Star berth. He struggled over the last two years (4-10, 5.32, in 2010; 7-8, 5.12, in 2011) and the Sox only offered him a non-roster invitation to spring training this season. Rather than fight for a place on the team, he decided to retire.

"To be honest, I think this is what is best for the Red Sox, what is best for my family," said Wakefield, later adding: "For me, it was the right decision to make."

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

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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

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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.