Wednesday was apparently a slow night for defense, as ESPN only selected three plays to qualify for the web gems. The Atlanta Braves’ Yunel Escobar leads off with a bare-hand grab, plant and strike to first base. Keeping with the shortstop position, Maicer Izturis makes an amazing diving stop to rob a base hit up the middle. Moving to the hot corner, perennial Gold Glove candidate Ryan Zimmerman makes a sliding stop and rocket throw from across the diamond to gun down a runner.
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The Boston Red Sox bullpen has been heavily taxed in recent games, pitching 23 2/3 innings in their last six games. But with Josh Beckett on the mound Thursday, they can be confident most of them will get some rest.
Beckett (2-1) will oppose Matt Garza (1-2) and the Tampa Bay Rays in the first of a four-game series at Tropicana Field. The Rays took the first three games of the season series, one in which both Beckett and Garza pitched well.
Garza stymied the Red Sox at Fenway on Apr. 9, allowing just one earned run while striking out five in seven innings for his first and only win of the 2009 season. Beckett was even more dominant in his opening day start, allowing one run on just two hits while striking out ten in seven innings of his own.
Despite the strong start to his season, Beckett was not nearly as effective last time out against the Yankees. He got pounded for eight runs in five-plus innings while throwing 116 pitches. Garza also struggled in his last start, allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings while walking four.
With the Red Sox- who have won 12 of their last 13 including an 11-game winning streak- coming to town, Tampa Bay may have a sense of urgency in tonight’s game. The Rays have stumbled to an 8-14 start and have been below-average all-around. They currently sit 10th in the American League in runs scored with 97, eighth in ERA with 4.70, and eighth in team fielding pct. with .983.
The Rays are coming off an 8-3 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Twins in which Scott Kazmir was roughed up for eight runs- six earned- in just four innings of work. Center fielder B.J. Upton is only 9-for-57 (.158) with one RBI in 15 games since his return from the disabled list. He and other Rays hitters will need to step it up to keep up with a Red Sox lineup that has scored 60 runs in their last 8 games.
The Rays will have to get a strong performance out of Garza, who was 1-0 against the Red Sox in three starts at Tampa, allowing 6 runs in 16 2/3 innings, in 2008. Beckett will also need to be much sharper and more efficient than he was against the Yankees. Red Sox Nation would certainly like to see something similar to Beckett’s two starts at Tropicana Field in 2008 (15 IP, 2 ER, 22 K).
The way the pitchers’ seasons are going so far, this game is tough to predict. But what can be guaranteed is that both teams will be ready for battle when the clock strikes 7:08 p.m.
From April 27, 2009: The San Jose Sharks came down to their final breath, and a pathetic one it was. They took another shellacking from the 8-seed Anaheim Ducks, 4-1, in game 6 of their opening round matchup. Amazingly, it’s the Sharks who looked over-matched in this series, when they were the President’s Trophy winners. Looks like they’re going to get shut out of every other trophy this season.
Joe Thornton tries to salvage some level of dignity for San Jose by going toe-to-toe with fellow franchise center Ryan Getzlaf right off the opening faceoff. This is a pretty even fight, as it should be since they are similarly-sized and not experienced fighters. But I still would have put my money on the younger and more hard-nosed Getzlaf. Thornton had tried to get him going in the previous game, which the Sharks had to win to avoid elimination. Looks like Thornton shouldn’t have bothered with any of this behavior to begin with. He can go play golf while the Ducks take on the mighty Red Wings.
Coco Crisp finally makes the top five for the first time this season, running down a fly ball all the way to the warning track and to the wall. Jose Lopez shows some support for King Felix by bare-handing a slow-rolling grounder and making the out.
Jason Bay checks in at No.3 with a running foul catch that sends him into the first row of the seats. Not long after making a potential catch of the year candidate, Rick Ankiel makes another great play with a running, diving catch in left-center. Keeping with the Cardinals-Braves game, second baseman Brendan Ryan makes a sensational diving grab to get a runner out.
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The Washington Capitals have no more excuses to make. They’re still a young team, but they are no longer a rebuilding or developing team. The talent is there right here and now, and after winning a playoff series for the first time since 1998 and the first time in Ted Leonsis’ tenure as owner, they must expect to keep advancing.
Through all the madness that permeated this series, the right team eventually won. The No.2-seeded Capitals are moving on and will now face the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference semifinal.
“Looks like we’re playing Pittsburgh,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN moments after Carolina eliminated New Jersey. “Get ready for the circus.”
Not having Donald Brashear around for most of the series, if not all of it, will definitely make the series less of a “circus.” But it will certainly prove to be an entertaining, tough series with the first-ever clash of the young NHL superstars- Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.
It could also be fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin becoming Ovechkin’s rival. But it’s pretty well known by now that Crosby and Ovechkin do not like each other. Crosby does not like the act Ovechkin puts on when he celebrates goals, and he also takes exception to how reckless he is when going after people.
For the sake of the league, lets hope this series not only goes seven games, but goes seven agonizingly tight and intense games. And let’s also hope the budding rivalry between Ovechkin and the Penguins’ dual superstars continues to grow. Both teams have legitimate chances to contend for several years, and a true championship rivalry may be what the NHL needs to regain its lost popularity.
As for the Rangers, who took the defeat in game 7 and lost the series after leading 3-1…They certainly deserve credit for hanging tough in game 7 and almost pulling out the victory, but ultimately they did what they were supposed to do. This series would not have been close if not for the stellar play of Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Games five through seven proved that the rest of the Rangers team wasn’t good enough to advance even with Lundqvist playing at an other-worldly level. This series made me realize that Lundqvist may have deserved MVP consideration for his season.
It was an up-and-down 2008-09 overall, but would the Rangers have made the playoffs without Lundqvist’s 2.20 GAA in March and April? The Blueshirts were 2-5-2 in the games Lundqvist did not start, allowing 40 goals. Despite Lundqvist’s 2.43 GAA on the season, the Rangers still allowed more goals than they scored.
When looking at those stats, one word comes to mind when thinking of the Rangers: FRAUDS! Take Lundqvist out of the lineup and give, say, Jose Theodore the same amount of starts, and they’re almost a last-place team. Lundqvist deserves more support than he’s getting. The Rangers have some serious questions to answer this off-season. I can almost see Marian Gaborik in Broadway Blue right now…
I hate to break it to New York fans, but Mark Messier’s not walking through that door. Brian Leetch is not walking through that door. And Mike Richter is certainly not walking through that door. But Lundqvist is. Are any skaters going to follow him in?
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The younger Boston Celtics stars are stepping up in the absence of Kevin Garnett- and the Chicago Bulls are simply stepping up. The dueling teams delivered another tight, back-and-forth overtime game that came down to the final precious seconds. This time, the Celtics prevailed on the late-game heroics of their captain.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics in minutes with 51 and scored the final six points, including a 20-foot jumper with 3.4 seconds remaining in OT, to finish with 26 as the Celtics defeated the Bulls 106-104 in the third overtime game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, which the Celtics now lead 3-2. Kendrick Perkins pulled down 19 rebounds, his postseason career-high, and Rajon Rondo nearly reached another triple double, finishing with 28 points, 11 assists, and 4 rebounds in 49 minutes. Glen “Big Baby” Davis also had a big night for the Celtics, scoring 21 on 7-for-11 shooting.
Ben Gordon led the Bulls in scoring after an MRI revealed a strained hamstring and left him day-to-day. Although Gordon only shot 6-for-21 field goals, he was 11-for-12 from the free throw line and ended up with 26 points. The Bulls kept themselves in the game with far superior bench play. Kirk Hinrich played 31 minutes off the bench and scored 19 points, while the entire Celtics bench was only 2-for-10 shooting all night. With two seconds remaining in OT, Brad Miller had a chance to make two free throws to tie the game and likely send it to double overtime, but missed his first shot.
Game 6 will be at Chicago Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. EST. The Bulls would like to see more of the same out of Joakim Noah– who nearly matched Perkins with 11 points and 17 rebounds- and more out of Derrick Rose, who scored only 14 and had no free throw attempts. The Celtics are certainly not going to want to be forced to rely as much on their starters as they did Tuesday night.
The way this series is going, it’s almost safe to predict another OT game in No.6. I say why not? This series has just about already reached classic status.
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Emotions have undoubtedly run high in the opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series between the No.2-seeded Washington Capitals and No.7-seeded New York Rangers, as it usually does at this time of year. Players and coaches alike have had tendencies to let their emotions get the best of them and use poor judgment in their actions. That is precisely the case with Rangers head coach John Tortorella, who sat out the game 6 Capitals victory after an incident with a fan in game 5, and Capitals winger Donald Brashear, who learned today he will be suspended six games for two separate incidents in game 6 at Madison Square Garden.
TO be more specific, the suspensions are one game for Brashear’s shove of the Rangers’ Colton Orr during pre-game warmups, and five games for this vicious hit he delivers to Betts (replay at about 0:53):
This hit is a bona fide cheapshot by one of the more goon-ish forwards in the NHL. Brashear is known for an extremely physical style of play that makes up for his lack of skill, which has kept him getting jobs at the NHL level for several years. But his reputation earned him the stiff suspension, and it is justified considering his actions.
The hit is very, very late and apparently includes a big portion of Brashear’s elbow. The hit broke an orbital bone in Betts’ face. Since normal hits are supposed to come immediately after a player gets rid of the puck, the solid second that comes in between Betts’ release and Brashear’s hit feels like an eternity. Brashear also seems to veer out of his way to deliver the hit, as you can see in the second replay.
The NHL has made it totally clear that they will not tolerate juvenile behavior from coaches or players during such important series. The Capitals lose an important physical presence for six games, and would lose Brashear for the first five regular season games should the Rangers pull the upset in tonight’s decisive seventh game.
Tortorella has probably also learned his lesson after this incident with a Capitals fan in game 5 earned him his one-game suspension:
Tortorella is known for his fiery personality, which can motivate his players to do well for him, but at times can also make him his own worst enemy. He came under fire in 2006 as Tampa Bay Lightning coach when he threw goalie John Grahame under the bus during the 2006 playoffs, so at least to me it comes as no surprise that Tortorella again lost control of his emotions in the postseason.
The (probably) drunken fan that provoked Tortorella obviously had no business remaining in the arena, but it was Tortorella’s job to ignore the guy and not stoop to the same level. But he did, and by doing so could have cost his team the series.
This series, through all its trials and tribulations, back-and-forth action and sensation-stirring headlines, comes down to one single game. Brashear will not be present, but Tortorella will. And he will need to pull his entire team together in order to defeat the obviously much deeper and more talented Capitals. And he will need to keep his emotions under control in the process.
Julio Lugo has been anything but consistent since arriving in Boston with a four-year, $36 million contract in 2007. He has shown flashes of being the speedy, solid-hitting top-of-the-order hitter the Red Sox signed him to be, but his .247 batting average in 229 games in Boston has left a sour taste in fans’ mouths.
However, the 33-year-old shortstop has never been short of confidence, and now that Boston has activated from the disabled list after a spring training knee injury- and that Jed Lowrie will miss six-to-eight weeks following wrist surgery- he has never felt more confident in his ability to deliver full-time production for the Red Sox.
“I think he feels pretty good about himself,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told RedSox.com’s Justice Hill of Lugo. “I think he’s trying to still work on some strength.”
The plan is to ease Lugo back into playing and eventually make him the full-time starter. Fortunately, Nick Green has played well in his and Lowrie’s absences.
Green has contributed admirably offensively, hitting .298/.365/.468 with six extra-base hits in 47 at-bats. He has played somewhat inconsistently defensively, committing five errors, but has been fine using his powerful throwing arm- his biggest asset- to gun down runners.
Lugo still has plenty to prove to Red Sox Nation. If he put his tools together for an entire season, he could be a strong presence for the Red Sox at the bottom of the order. Putting his speed in the ninth spot in the order could potentially be very valuable…If he gets on base often enough.
The Red Sox are playing outstanding baseball right now, riding an 11-game winning streak after a rocky 2-6 start. They swept a nine-game homestand against Baltimore, Minnesota and the Yankees, and carried that into Cleveland Monday night for the 3-1 victory. They have gotten great starting pitching, dominant relief work and timely hitting, especially from Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis, who combined have hit three home runs in the ninth inning or later in the last four games.
For those reasons, there is no need to rush Lugo back into the lineup. But once he is back into everyday mode, he needs to show the Red Sox why they awarded him his contract in the first place. His inconsistency at the plate and in the field has frustrated fans and the organization, and his bloated contract makes him nearly impossible to trade. So if he doesn’t start producing on a consistent basis, the Red Sox are stuck with an albatross at shortstop. But make no mistake, Lugo is itching to get back into the lineup and stay there.
“My body’s going to tell me what I’m capable of doing,” Lugo told Hill. “But yeah, you want to play every day. I want to get my feet wet again with the guys — with the team.”
By “you,” Lugo certainly means himself. He is definitely up for the challenge. But the question is whether or not he can fulfill it.
Call it “Carcillo’s Last Stand,” if you will. Flyers uber-tough guy Daniel Carcillo gives Maxime Talbot a thorough beating here, but it turned out to be detrimental to the Flyers’ season as the extra motivation the Penguins needed materialized after Maxim Talbot bravely squares off with Carcillo. The “shhh” sign Talbot gives to the unruly Philadelphia crowd is great to watch in retrospect, because the Penguins eventually came back and defeated the Flyers 4-3, won the series four games to two, and silenced the fans. Karma comes back to bite Carcillo.
The Brewers’ Mike Cameron starts us off with a nice catch in center field. At No.4, Raul Ibañez has to run a little farther to get his ball, but makes the nice diving catch.
The Texas Rangers’ David Murphy comes in at No.3 with two great, strong throws to gun down a runner at third, then home plate to single-handedly stop what could have been a big inning for Baltimore.
Oakland’s Jack Hannahan earns the No.2 spot with an always-impressive charge-and-throw of a slow-roller up the third base line.
Mark Reynolds makes the No.1 play with an excellent foul-ball catch, a very similar catch to the other web gem he earned this season.
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In a weekend packed with excitement and thrills for New England sports, Jacoby Ellsbury made one play that supplanted the rest as the most memorable.
There are several things that can be highlighted about the Boston Red Sox’s three-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the first meeting of the season between the two teams. The finale alone is full of notables and mentionables. It could be the 10th straight win for the Red Sox. It could be that they swept not just the Yankees, but the entire nine-game homestand including a double-header sweep against the Minnesota Twins. It could be that the Red Sox got 5 1/3 strong innings out of starter Justin Masterson, and more sparkling bullpen work including 2 2/3 perfect innings out of farmhands Michael Bowden and Hunter Jones.
But the one thing that stood out above all these was a single stolen base. To be more specific, it was a steal of home plate. Ellsbury stood on third and stared down Andy Pettite, and suddenly lost all sense of apprehension within himself. For the first time since high school, he attempted to steal home. And he made it safely and relatively comfortably.
Ellsbury’s play was the first straight steal of home- that is, a steal of home without any other play involved- since B.J. Upton did it against Kelvim Escobar and the Los Angeles Angels on Sept. 17, 2007.
David Ortiz also drove in a run with his sixth double of the season just before Ellsbury’s steal. J.D. Drew followed the steal with an RBI double of his own.
The Red Sox won the first game, 5-4, on a Kevin Youkilis walk-off home run in the 11th inning. They also won the wild middle game, 16-11, on the strength of a go-ahead home run by Mike Lowell and a grand slam by Jason Varitek.
The weekend for New England sports also included the Celtics and Chicago Bulls, who battled to a 121-118 double-overtime victory for Chicago. The game saw 28 lead changes and several late game-changing shots.
Also not to be forgotten in this week’s madness was the New England Patriots, who partook in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Pats traded out of the first round and acquired extra picks for this year and next year. Their most intriguing draft acquisitions included safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Darius Butler, and wide receiver Brandon Tate.
If you missed Ellsbury’s steal or just haven’t seen it by now, here’s a clip:
In a mind-boggling move that could have only come from the twisted mind of a crusty old man like Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders took Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. While Heyward-Bey is a serious physical specimen and the fastest player in the draft, this pick makes no sense at all for the Raiders when Michael Crabtree was still on the board. Crabtree was universally touted as the top receiver in the draft, and arguably the best overall player. But the Raiders, as usual, went with the fastest player they could get. Davis falls in love with speedsters, and usually proceeds to mess up his team in the process by making such demands. The Raiders screwed up royally with this one, and the San Francisco 49ers made out like bandits getting a top-3 talent like Crabtree at pick No.10. Here’s Crabtree’s interview that came just after he was selected:
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The Cleveland Cavaliers are rolling, as expected, through their first-round series against the No.8-seeded Detroit Pistons. In all fairness, Detroit has not played that badly. Their defense has kept games close for at least big portions of them. But Cleveland is just too good. They continue to end up running away with it, and it doesn’t help matters to let LeBron James drive the ball down your throat like this. Check out this HUGE alley-oop from passer Mo Williams, and LeBron’s maniacal scream right after. Go to YouTube to watch it in HD.
The Washington Capitals have been a major disappointment thus far in the postseason, losing their first two games at home and going into game 5 against the New York Rangers down three games to one. There is no one to really blame on their failures against the No.7-seeded Rangers; it can pretty much be chalked up to outstanding goaltending by New York’s Henrik Lundqvist. But now the Caps have a chance to pull off the upset after staying alive with a 4-0 game 5 win. They will need to win another game in New York but if they can, it would be hard to bet against them in game 7 at home. Hart Trophy candidate Alexander Ovechkin could be an easy scapegoat for their series deficit, but the man is doing just about all he can to get the puck in the net. He has an astounding 38 shots on goal in the five games, but only two goals. However, his second goal was quite an amazing play that is generating serious buzz. He shifts around one defender, drags the puck through another’s legs, and as he’s losing his edge unleashes a wicked backhand from a few feet out to beat Lundqvist. Check it out here:
Friday night’s opener of the Red Sox – Yankees season series could not have gone better for Red Sox Nation. For the first time ever, the Red Sox defeated the Yankees by tying the game with a home run in the ninth inning, then winning with a walk-off home run extra innings. Kevin Youkilis went deep off Damaso Marte in the bottom of the 11th, launching the ball over the green monster seats and out of Fenway Park. Jason Bay hit the game-tying home run to center field off Mariano Rivera, who blew his first save of the season.
Ramon Ramirez (2-0) pitched a scoreless 11th inning to earn the win, and has yet to allow an earned run in 10 1/3 innings. In five innings, the Red Sox bullpen allowed two earned runs, both off Hideki Okajima in the seventh. Jon Lester turned in his second straight quality start, allowing two earned runs in six innings, throwing 114 pitches. Lester struck out seven, allowed seven hits, and walked three in the no-decision.
For the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain pitched 5 1/3 shaky innings, allowing nine hits and four walks, but inducing four inning-ending double plays to exit the game with the lead. Chamberlain threw 91 pitches and struck out two. Every Yankees starter had at least one hit, including two each for Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira.
The Red Sox and Yankees will square off again at 4:10 p.m. this afternoon, with Josh Beckett opposing A.J. Burnett. Justin Masterson will oppose Andy Pettite in the Sunday night finale.
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