Sale-ling along again

The Big Story – Alumni News: After his one-calamity-after-another ways since 2018, you knew from the day the Sox traded Chris Sale to Atlanta he was going to regain his dominant form. Which he did while shutting the Sox out for six innings last week while striking out 10 in a win that moved him to 5-1 with a 2.95 ERA for the Braves through seven starts.

It should be noted that, given his injury history and track record of eventually wearing down, he’s a long way from making it through the first half, let alone the year, injury-free. It is working so far. But, as Casey Stengel used to say, you never know.

Fingers crossed.

Sports 101: Ty Cobb won the AL Batting title year between 1907 and 1919 except in 1916. Who won it that year?

News Item – Trouble Bruin For B’s: The opening series 5-1 drubbing of Florida now seems long ago. It was all downhill from there after the Bruins got drubbed themselves twice in three straight losses. First by identical 6-1 scores in Games 2 and 3. Then by blowing a 2-0 first period lead in Game 4 to go down 1-3 to the Panthers. The only glimmer of hope to take from this dire spot is that’s where Florida was before rallying to win three straight and take the series 4-3 last year. So the B’s know it can be done.

News Item – White Hot Nova Connection Burns Indy: The best story in the NBA playoffs has to be the way three teammates from Villanova’s 2018 NCAA championship team are driving the Knicks deeper into the playoffs. It’s a first of its kind story, as if the Knicks go/went on to win it all Jalen Brunson, Dominic Divicenzo and Josh Hart would be the first three guys from the same college championship to pull that off together in the NBA.

News Item – C’s Lose Game 2 Badly Again: Celtics fan boy see-no-evil ESPN announcers are repeating the line that fans are “impatient” with the Jayson Tatum-led team for not winning enough after seeing them rack up their latest Game 2 relaxation loss at home after cruising in Game 1 over Cleveland. This claim is insulting to them and delusional by the players and coaches pushing that ridiculous story. It’s just an excuse by a team that can’t stay focused when it counts. With their talent, if Tatum and company had one tenth of the fight in them that Hart, Brunson and the Knicks have shown in these playoffs, the C’s would have won the last two NBA Finals.

The Numbers:

16 – shots on goal total by the Bruins offense to 32 against in the aforementioned Game 4 loss to Florida.

40 – months in prison that rocket scientist Celtics alum GlenBig Baby” Davis was sentenced to last week for his role in scamming the NBA health care program out of pandemic-related funds.

76 – video clips sent to the NBA office by the Pacers supposedly showing referee mistakes from just the first two games of the Pacers-Knicks.

Of the Week

Crybaby of the Week – Pacers Coach RickCarlisle. Come on, Rick, not even I think NBA refs can miss 76 calls in just two stinking games.

Stat of the Week – Plus/Minus: For those who think points scored mean everything. When Minnesota thumped Denver 106-80 in Game 2 vs. the T-Wolves, their plus/minus leader was Jaden McDaniels at +26 despite scoring just 5 points. On the other side Denver’s high scorer was Aaron Gordon with 20, who also was their +/- leader at -33.

Random Thoughts

Hate to put pressure on the kid, but am I the only one who thinks that from certain angles Drake Maye looks like Tom Brady?

The T-Wolves’ Anthony Edwards is showing he’s on the doorstep of joining the NBA’s elite players. He has a lot of Michael/Kobe grit in him.

Sports 101 Answer: Ex-Red Sox star Tris Speaker hit .386 for Cleveland to stop Cobb’s streak. But Cobb wasn’t far off as he finished second at .370.

Final Thought – Minutes Debate: As someone who thinks players are babied down to 32 minutes a game nowadays by sissified coaches like Joe Muzzulla, I’ll be interested to see if the Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau’s pedal-to-the-middle style will hold up as the playoffs go on. Both Hart and Brunson have averaged over 43 minutes per so far, where Hart played all 48 in three straight games, while it was 42 for OG Anunoby, 44 for Brunson and Divincenzo and all 48 minutes for Hart in Game 1 was Indiana.

I’m a maniac, but even I think that has to catch up to them at some point. And maybe it did in Game 4 as the Villanova trio shot a combined 9 for 36 overall and 1-16 from downtown in a 32-point loss.

However, we’ll need a little more evidence before we know if Game 4 was just one of those bad game blowouts or if New York is getting tired.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

B’s bumble but move on

The Big Story – It’s Pheeew for the Bruins: After lackluster efforts in Games 5 and 6 that turned a 3-1 series lead into a here-we-go-again Game 7 nail-biter vs. a weaker opponent, fans of the B’s were thinking it was deja vu all over again. That’s why David Pastrnak’s Game 7 winning goal in OT vs. Toronto was such a relief. And while it doesn’t quite go up there with Bobby Orr going airborne after putting one past St. Louis goalie Glenn Hall to win the 1970 Stanley Cup, it was still a huge historical Bruins moment, because it saved them from a franchise-killing loss at a most critical time.

Now on to face the club that wrecked last year’s party, the dastardly Florida Panthers.

Sports 101: Name the four pitchers to have struck out 4,000 or more batters.

News Item – Sox Reminding All of 2013: I went that whole year saying, “How are they doing this? They’re not that good.” I’m saying the same thing now, as behind great starting pitching they left April in third place at 18-13 and 1.5 games behind the Orioles and Yankees. All of which has attracted attention from many who wrote them off as a disaster waiting to happen.

News Item – Super Team Duds: For players with the power to do it like Kevin Durant and LeBron James, building “super teams” has been all the rage since LBJ pulled it off by taking his talents to Miami over a decade ago. But I don’t think getting run out in a first-round rout by Minnesota is what KD had in mind when he forced his way out of Brooklyn to form a super team in Phoenix. Ditto for LeBron when he less than ethically got Anthony Davis’ agent (and his) to concoct a way/steal/tamper to bring AD to L.A.

News Item – Baseball Managers Value: It’s hard to exactly say what it is. Especially in light of what’s happened in Cleveland and Houston in the first month of the 2024 baseball season, as the Guardians lead the AL Central at 20-10. I guess they don’t miss the retired Tito Francona. But in Houston it’s the reverse for the perennially contending Astros after Dusty Baker hung them up, as they were dead last at 10-20. So go figure.

The Numbers:

1 – shots made out of 15 taken by Orlando guard Franz Wagner in the Magic’s Game 7 loss to Cleveland.

6 – MLB-leading shutouts by the maligned Red Sox pitching staff after Cooper Criswell led a parade of five pitchers to shut out the SF Giants 4-0 on just four hits last week.

38 – career-high playoff points scored by Derrick White to save the Celtics from a team-wide lethargic effort in a Game 4 102-88 win over Miami.

Of the Week Awards

Never Seen That Award – Donovan Mitchell: Never saw MJ, LBJ, Kareem, Kobe or even Pete Maravich score every one of their team’s points in an entire fourth quarter as Mitchell did when he scored all 22 in the Cavs’ 103-96 Game 6 loss to Orlando.

Why Can’t We Get Games Like That Award – L.A. Dodgers: For the first time since 2006 the Dodgers went an entire game without anyone striking out. It came in a 8-4 win over five hapless D-Backs pitchers who came up K-empty vs. 44 hitters while walking eight of them.

Random Thoughts:

How do all three refs miss a crucial travel in the final minute of Game 5 of the Knicks-76ers? Which let Tyrese Maxey get the four-point play that sent it to OT, as the NBA’s 2 Minute Report said they did? How?

A Little History – Bruins–Maple Leafs Rivalry: Saturday’s win was the seventh straight time the Bruins have eliminated the Maple Leafs from the playoffs dating all the way to 1969. However, since Toronto dominated the historic rivalry to start by winning eight of the first 10 meetings, the overall series is 9-8 in favor of Boston.

Sports 101 Answer: The 4,000-strikeout club includes, from most to least, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton.

Final Thought – Thumbs Up – Brad Stevens Executive of the Year: It’s rare I’m as wrong as I was about making young Brad the Celtics GM, which I said was a “big mistake” because I had Brad fatigue and figured he’d pick the same type of coach.

But in Ime Udoka he didn’t, and then he set about to make one great trade after another, with the last two leading to capturing the best record in the NBA. And while I was all in on the Kristaps Porzingis-for-Marcus Smart deal, I was leery of the Jrue Holiday-for-Rob WilliamsMalcolm Brogdon deal because, while I loved Holiday, I thought it sapped their depth. But Stevens correctly saw that Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet could fill the void, and he was right again.

All of which is why he richly deserves the award.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

The week that was

The Big Story – It’s take your pick for the week’s top story between (1) the Patriots following a boring but common sense path to fill their biggest needs during the weekend’s NFL draft, (2) the Bruins taking care of business to grab a commanding 3-1 in their playoff series with the Maple Leafs, and (3) the seen-this-script-before no-urgency way the Celtics were their own worst enemy again via their unfocused Game 2 loss after taking a 1-0 series lead over Miami, followed by a backs-against-the-wall Game 3 rout of Miami on the road.

Sports 101: Name the Top 5 leaders for most triple doubles in NBA playoff history.

News Item – Gotta Love Those Playoff Endings: Game 2’s in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs was great ending theater with Jamal Murray’s sideways step back to shoot over 7 foot Anthony Davis’ solid D to give Denver a win at the buzzer, and the coming back from the dead by scoring eight points in the final 27 seconds by first smothering Tyrese Maxey on the inbounds pass to steal it in front of their basket, getting two o-rebounds before seeing the game winning three drop, followed by a great Isaiah Hartenstein block of a sure game winning lay-up by the streaking Maxey.

News Item – Five Thoughts on NFL Draft:

History says three of the six QBs taken in Round 1 will be busts.

In taking a QB, WR and left tackle the Patriots drafted to fill their three biggest needs in rounds 1 through 3. It’s an improvement over the haphazard way Coach B did it. Now, how good are the talent evaluation skills of Eliot Wolf?

I hate to sound negative, but the description of Ja’Lynn Polk — not a burner, but more than makes up for it in physicality in one-on-one battles — sounds an awful lot like what they told us N’Keal Harry was supposed to be.

The Patriots need to come away from this draft with at least four solid long-term NFL players. Hence my desire for a trade down because it would have enhanced the likelihood of that this year and next.

I’m with everyone else — Atlanta drafting a QB (Michael Penix) after giving Kirk Cousins a four-year deal and $100 million guaranteed seems nuts.

The Numbers:

65,162 –largest crowd in New England history to see a soccer game when worldwide star Lionel Messi didn’t disappoint by scoring twice and assisting twice for Inter Miami in their 4-1 win over the New England Revolution.

Of the Week Awards

Do the Math Award: Usually when someone goes 4 for 4 before May 1 the batting average takes a huge leap. And in the case of Ceddanne Rafaela’s 4-4, 1-homer, 7-RBI day on Saturday it did. But since he ended the day hitting .191, it tells how far below the Mendozza line the struggling rookie was.

Why Can’t We Get Guys Like That Award – Mookie Betts: The latest reminder of what a titanically stupid move trading Mookie Betts was is that he left April as the leading hitter in baseball at .387 while playing 24 games at shortstop and another 14 at second base.

Random Thoughts:

Given my discontent with the Patriots’ unimaginative approach to the draft, here’s the question I wished was asked on March 15: What would Danny Ainge do if he had the third overall pick?

I know how good Kawhi Leonard is, but if I’m a GM I’m not interested in him because he constantly creates uncertainty by always being hurt.

Sports 101 Answer: The playoff triple double leaders are Magic Johnson (30), LeBron James (28), Nikola Jokic (18), Russell Westbrook (12) and Jason Kidd (11).

A Little History – Celtics Playoff Triple Doubles: Just six Celtics have done it. Larry Bird and, yes, Rajon Rondo are the all-time leaders with 10 each. Next is John Havlichek with 5 followed by Bill Russell (3), while Paul Pierce and Jayson Tatum each did it once.

Final Thoughts – Sports Tastes Changing: Despite what some think, sports interests change. With no better example being that in the first 50 years of the 20th century boxing, horse racing and baseball were by far the most popular spectator sports in America. On the flip side are two vivid examples seen in the last two weeks of newer sports gaining traction with the public that few would have predicted a decade ago.

The first was the TV audience for the women’s national championship basketball game being larger than the one for the men’s title game. Second was seeing 65,000 at a regular season New England Revolution soccer game when Messi came to Foxboro on Saturday. Not saying it’s good or bad. Just that they represent astonishing examples of how interests are evolving in the U.S. sports culture.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Drafty weekend expected

The Big Story – The NFL 2004 Draft: It comes your way starting tonight (Thursday) from Detroit at 8 p.m. on ESPN and the NFL Network. As I write this the Patriots still hold the third overall pick. If they stay there they’ll most likely take North Carolina QB Drake May.

Sports 101: Including their AFL days, name the five Patriots drafted first overall. Hint: The first was from BC and did not sign with the team.

News Item – Spring Playoffs Start: Good Game 1’s for the Bruins and Celtics. For the B’s it was 5-1 over Toronto behind two goals and an assist from Jake DeBrusk. For the C’s it was a 114-94 win over Miami. That included the usual of rolling to two big leads before infuriatingly losing focus to see them whittled down to scary territory instead of just putting them away.

News Item – Injuries Riddle Sox: It’s standing room only on the Red Sox injured list starting with losing shortstop Trevor Story for the year. He’s joined by Raffy Devers, Triston Casas and AL home run leader Tyler O’Neill and we have yet to see newly acquired second baseman Vaugh Grissom too. Starting pitchers Garrett Whitlock and Nick Pivetta are also on the list along with gone for the year projected No. 2 starter Lucas Giolito. Still, with all that, they swept Pittsburgh over the weekend to start the week 13-10.

The Numbers

0 – points scored in 32 minutes played in what could be free agent to be Klay Thompson’s final game with Golden State when they were run out in the play-in round by Sacramento.

0.66 – ERA for Kutter Crawford in five Red Sox starts over 27.1 innings.

17 – wins against 19 losses for Milwaukee since hiring Doc Rivers to replace the fired 32-14 Adrian Griffin.

Of the Week Awards

Thumbs Up – Jack Edwards: At his retirement after 19 years as the Bruins’ highly enthusiastic play-by-play guy. Congrats to the Durham, N.H., native and WGIR/Channel 50 alum on a job well done.

Iron Man – Zdeno Chara: The ex-Bruins captain gets it for running the Boston Marathon on April 15 (3:30:53) and for astonishingly running another six days later in London in just 3:11:04.

Player – Tanner Houck: For once Alex Cora actually let the player just do it, and Houck delivered a beauty, a three-hit, nine-strikeout 2-0 complete game shutout over Cleveland that, oh by the way, took 1:47 to play.

Question – Brayan Bello: So how in the name of Al Nipper did Bello do basically the same as Houck vs. Pittsburg — two hits, seven K’s and just two walks — but somehow throw three more pitches and last three fewer innings?

Fun Media Feud – Shaq & Charles Barkley vs. Kendrick Perkins: Perk said on ESPN radio that the TNT duo “obviously don’t watch NBA games” after they dissed the Knicks’ playoff chances. The boys didn’t like that so they showed clips of the retiring Blake Griffin dunking in Perk’s face with Shaq saying — “I don’t watch Knick games, but I watched that one.” Chuck then said to Shaq, “out here killing roaches” followed by a TV version of dunking in Perk’s face — “five points a game [and you’re] gonna call me out?” Ouch.

Sports 101 Answer: The Pats’ five first overall picks were Jack Concannon (‘64), Jim Plunkett (’71), Kenneth Sims (’80), Irving Fryar (’84) and Drew Bledsoe (’92). Concannon signed with the NFL’s Chicago Bears instead.

Final Thought – Draft Strategy: This notion the Patriots should hold out for an “unprecedented” Herschel Walker-like offer is unrealistic and ridiculous. It’s the third pick — not the top pick with a once-in-a-generation QB sitting there like Andrew Luck or Joe Burrow.

So if it were me, I’d pull a Danny Ainge, who got the Celtics where they are today with the creative 2013 deal that got him Jaylon Brown and Jayson Tatum.

Like trading down a couple of times. First with the (possibly QB interested) Giants for their sixth pick and first in 2025. Then, with QB desperate Minnesota in danger of missing out on a Top 4 guy, I’d propose they get the sixth and Pats third-round pick for the 11th and 23rd along with wide receiver Jordan Addision, who had 90 catches for 900-plus yards and 10 TD’s as a rookie in 2023. And I might even be willing to slide down a little further from 11 for more draft capital. But the first two trades would give them a proven wide receiver, along with the ammo to get a left tackle, another wideout and maybe even be in position to take Gronk like Georgia tight end Brock Bowers if in the unlikely event he slides out of the first 10 picks.

Then I’d live with Jacoby Brissett at QB and go into the 2025 draft with two first-round picks at least.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

NBA’s second season begins

The Big Story – The NBA Playoffs: The do-or-die part of the Celtics’ season starts Saturday against an undetermined opponent as I write this Monday morning. It likely will be nemesis Miami or Philadelphia, who only finished this low because Joel Embiid missed major time with a knee injury, which means they’ll have an unusually difficult 8-seed opponent. And I say watch out for the Knicks because they (and Jalen Brunson) are better than most think. Then out west about five teams could win. Though I’ve got Denver behind the best player in the game. Buckle up. It should be fun.

Sports 101: Name the only MVP of an NBA Final from the losing team.

News Item – Women Top Men in TV Ratings: Since the Women’s Final was on a network (ABC) and the Men’s was on cable (TNT) it wasn’t exactly apples and apples. But who cares? The Women’s Final outranking the men 18 million to 14 million is monumental. It remains to be seen if it simply was the star power draw of Caitlin Clark’s dynamic senior season or not. Either way, it is a huge moment for women’s basketball and ESPN for investing in them.

News Item – Excellent Media Point: We’re a week away from the NFL draft and I’ll spend it hoping the Patriots heed the words of Mike Reiss in his ESPN.com column about the worst-to-first turn-around by the Houston Texans in 2023. He pointed out that while getting quarterback C.J. Stroud was the catalyst for their dramatic growth, it only came after two years of taking their lumps and building first under GM (and ex-Patriots Assistant GM) Nick Caserio.

That is exactly why if they get the right deal the Patriots should trade down from third overall for a boatload of high picks. That would accelerate the rebuilding process to where they have a more complete team before adding the QB in Year 2 or even 3 to give him a better chance to succeed.

The Numbers:

7 – AL-leading homer total by Sox newcomer Tyler O’Neill, which would be of greater value if all but one weren’t solo shots.

11 – shots under par carded by Scottie Scheffler on his way to becoming the fourth-youngest two-time Masters champion on Sunday.

Of the Week Awards

Thumbs Up – Mike Gorman: To the retiring Celtics TV announcer. Picking the best announcer is a to-each-his-own world, but I’ve got Gorman as the greatest Boston broadcaster of all. I’m a New Yorker who grew up with Marv Albert as the gold standard, but I’ll take “Got it!” over Marv’s “Yes!” because it conveyed the utter excitement of the moment in a way the “Yes” never could. The irony of his most iconic call, “stolen by Bird, on the cut to DJ,” is that while I saw it I never heard it because the Burlington, Vermont, spot I was in was too loud. Michael, thanks for the memories over 43 years of excellence.

Quote of the Week – Dan Hurley: “I can’t afford a divorce right now” in response to questions about leaving UConn for the job left open at Kentucky by John Calipari’s departure.

Sports 101 Answer: Jerry West was the only Finals MVP from a losing team, which ironically happened the first year it was awarded, in 1969, when he averaged 37.8 points and 7.8 assists per as the Lakers lost to the Celtics in Bill Russell’s final season.

Final Thought – The Celtics Quest: After a specular 64-18 season, the Celtics are the NBA playoff favorite, which means they have giant expectations. After squandering opportunities the last two years they have to overcome two things to get to the promised land. The Jays need to be better at grinding when the bad times inevitably come in the playoffs, something they did not do in barely surviving a seven-game series vs. Miami before coughing up a 3-2 Finals lead to Golden State two years ago and again in being run out in seven by Miami last year. Joe Mazzulla also needs to be better this time around. I understand there was a learning curve in Year 1, which is fair. But the coach who I agree with almost nothing he does needs to show me I’m wrong and he’s right before I’ll believe he’s not a liability. At the top of my list is the way he babies the players, especially Kristaps Porzingis, a great majority of whose 25 DNP’s were unnecessary. Having said that, they still won 64 games and the Big Fella, along with everyone else, enters the playoffs healthy. So that’s a point for Joe.

Several potential interesting/scary match-ups may await, like maybe our first real Boston-New York playoff series since 1984. And after that Denver and Larry Bird clone Nikola Jokic could be in the Finals.

At stake is reclaiming the lead over the Lakers for most titles won by winning banner 18, something they can not do unless the Jays take that needed next step.

We’ll see.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Sox win big on left coast

The Big Story News Item – Sox Jump Out Fast: We’re just 10 games in, so it’s too early to call the surprise of Baseball 2024. But raise your hand if you had the Red Sox winning 7 of those 10 games. Especially since all 10 came on the West Coast. Most surprising has been the starting pitching, which had a collective ERA of 1.53, with the best being Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta giving up just one run in four starts.

The only down so far was shortstop Trevor Story dislocating his shoulder diving for the ball Friday, and there is talk as I write this on Monday he could be lost for the season.

The second 10 games come at home vs. Baltimore, Anaheim and Cleveland. We’ll know more after that.

Sports 101: Who holds the NBA record for playing the most consecutive games without fouling out?

News Item – Big Moment for Women’s Basketball: TV ratings often signal when a sport has arrived as a force in American sports. Last Monday may have been that day for women’s basketball as the grudge match between defending NCAA championship LSU and Iowa drew a largest-ever women’s college basketball audience of 12.3 million TV viewers. The return engagement went to Iowa 94-87 behind 41 points by Caitlin Clark. That was followed by similar ratings winners when Iowa got by UConn amid a controversial ending (it was the right call) in the semi-final before losing to South Carolina in the title game on Sunday. A great week for women’s basketball.

News Item – Keith Dickson: He’s one of those guys who’s been so good for so long it’s hard to remember what came before him. For the retiring Keith Dickson that would be taking over at Saint Anselm in 1986 and going on to win 719 games with a .687 winning percentage, make the NCAA Tournament 22 times and take one trip to the Final Four. All the while never having even one team I can remember that did not exceed the sum of its parts. Best of all was the rivalry between the Hawks and SNHU during the tenure of Dickson and Stan Spirou that was an on-going treat for local college basketball fans.

Well done, young fella.

The Numbers:

30 – stolen bases in 33 career attempts for Red Sox speedster Jarren Duran after going for 6 out of 7 so far in 2024, when he’s also batting .343.

400 – career goals scored by Bruins nudge Brad Marchand, a number that makes it hard to recall that the supposed to be Bruins star the year he was drafted was second overall pick Tyler Seguin. For the record: Seguin has lasted as long in Dallas but was 51 g’s behind Marchand when he reached his milepost.

10,000 – mark in career points reached by Jaylen Brown during his 26 effort in a 124-107 win over Portland.

Of the Week Awards

Player of the Week: The Houston hurler Ronel Blanco gets it for the no-no he threw at Toronto last week in just his eighth MLB start, a 103-pitch, 7-strikeout gem.

Why Can’t We Get Guys Like That Award: In Dalano Banton’s first game since leaving Boston as part of the Xavier Tillman deal, the 6’9” point guard juiced the Celtics for 28 points and 9 assists Sunday. And it wasn’t a one-game thing. In 28 games he’s averaging 16 points, 3.3 assists and nearly 5 boards with Portland.

Sports 101 Answer: Most incorrectly believe that Wilt Chamberlain holds the record because he never fouled out even once. But he only played in 1,045 games in his career. And while Moses Malone had five early career foul-outs, he later played in 1,212 straight without fouling out.

A Little History – Wilt Chamberlain: While never fouling out is noteworthy, it’s not the most amazing of Wilt’s many records. It’s that in 1961-62 when he scored 100 in one game and 50.4 points per game, he actually averaged more minutes per game than there are in a game as thanks to a few OT contests he averaged 48.5 per and would have played every second all year if he hadn’t gotten tossed in one game after getting two T’s for arguing with the refs.

Final Thought – Thumbs Up to Larry Lucchino: The greatest Red Sox team president passed away last week at 78 after a career of sports triumphs that included putting baseball back on the path to embrace its intimate ballpark, urban roots origins with the creation of Camden Yards as President of the Orioles. Conversely he was also smart enough to understand that Fenway Park was a jewel that should be saved and revitalized, not replaced. As for on the field, in my not so humble opinion he, not John Henry or Theo Epstein or Terry Francona, was the straw that stirred the drink that turned the Red Sox from perpetually frustrated losers to four-time champions this century. And they haven’t been the same since he left after 2015. RIP.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Final 4 set to blast off

The Big Story – The Final Four: To paraphrase legendary New York TV sportscaster Warner Wolf: If you had Purdue, NC State, Alabama and defending champion UConn going to the Final Four, YOU WIN! The Wolfpack and Boilermakers kick it off Saturday at 6:09 p.m. followed by the Huskies and Bama.

Sports 101: Name the only coach to officially take three different schools to the Final Four.

News Item – Early Red Sox Update: Yes, Nick Pivetta came up short in the 1-0 Game 2 loss. But by giving up just three hits and no walks while striking out 10, he basically picked up where he left off in 2023 after pulling himself together during a mid-year exile to the bullpen. Ditto for Garrett Whitlock, who exactly matched Pivetta’s effort except he struck out just eight in Sunday’s 5-1 win. Both were the bright spots in the season-opening 2-2 series split in Seattle.

The Numbers:

30 – to 0 run by the UConn during its 77-52 Elite 8 rout of Illinois.

30 – point lead blown by the Celtics in their latest infuriating loss, which came last week, 123-122 to Atlanta.

84, 84, 84, 81 – pitches thrown by Sox starters in their four opening games to make you wonder if 80 is the new 100 in the pitch count department for Alex Cora.

Of the Week Awards

What a Stupid I Yam Award – To Me: My friend and long-time reader Cliff Otto points out Red Sox prospects Marcelo Mayer and Roman Anthony were sent to AA Portland, not AAA as I said. But while I was incorrect, the larger point is they’re not far off from joining the young core and likely will be in AAA by mid-summer.

Survey Question: Whose Press Conference Statement Now Looks Dumber? (1) Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner saying the team was going to go “full throttle to improve the roster” and then doing nothing to do it? or (2) New Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo saying on the eve of free agency they were ready to “burn some cash” before doing almost nothing but re-sign players from a 4-13 team?

Random Thoughts:

Speaking of Warner Wolf, when he was unceremoniously dumped by CBS it was a huge deal in NYC. But the interesting local note was the young turk who took over was one-time UNH wide-out and later WMUR sports reporter Chris Wragge. And, now as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story. So where does Bob Kraft blaming Coach B for being the one who didn’t want to spend in free agency stand now after his team went into free agency with the most money in the league and then basically did squat?

Sports 101 Answer: At Providence, Kentucky and Louisville Rick Pitino is the only coach to take three different programs to the Final Four. John Calipari also did it, but UMass and Memphis later vacated their berths due to rules violations. So his only team in the official record is Kentucky.

Final Thought – NCAA Tournament:

Thanks to the one-and-done my interest has waned recently for college basketball. That’s because it took away our chance to see young players who make their mark grow into stars on their way to being seniors as the likes of Lew Alcindor, Patrick Ewing and Christian Laettner did through the years.

It’s what I enjoy most. And since evolving history has disappeared, it hasn’t seemed worth investing time in what the current format yields.

But that’s the glass is half empty. Because when I pulled my head out of the rabbit hole, there’s actually some real history being made in 2024. Like UConn will be looking to cement its place as — dare I say it — a college basketball dynasty?

I don’t throw the D-word around lightly. But if they win Monday it’ll be their sixth title since 1999 and only UCLA has done better than that over a 25-year span.

They’ll also be trying to become the first repeat winner since 2007, when Al Horford-led Florida did it by knocking off Greg Oden and Ohio State 84-75. Before that it was Duke in 1991 and 1992, whose point guard Bobby Hurley is the older brother of Huskie coach Danny Hurley. Beyond that, 11-seed NC State matches the lowest seed ever to make the Final Four. Which they did after miraculously surviving five games to win the ACC Tournament to just get in the tournament. Now they’ll be trying to emulate the similar miracle pulled off by the last Wolfpack team to get to the Finals, when Jim Valvano led NC State to an upset of highly favored Phi-Slama-Jama Houston for the title on a last second put-back by Lorenzo Charles in 1983.

Purdue will be there for the first time since 1980, while folks all over Bama are excited that for the first time the famous football school has made it to the dance at all.

All of that are reasons to tune in at 6:09 on Saturday night. Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Sox are off and running

The Big Story – Baseball’s Opening Day: After an awful off-season and what was the most subdued spring training in decades, the Red Sox kick off the 2024 season today in Seattle vs. the Mariners. As you can guess, it begins without high expectations in light of John Henry’s reversal of his once free spending ways. Especially in a division where everyone is spending but the Orioles, who, along with Atlanta, have the best young talent in baseball. Sorry to kick it all off with such an optimistic note, but that’s how it stands on Day 1.

Sports 101: It has only happened once in baseball history that the batting average of every player on one team stayed exactly what it was before the game started. How did that happen?

News Item – Ohtani’s Interpreter Fired After Gambling Disclosure: We could be at the beginning of a whopper of a story around the gambling-related firing of Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, on Friday. Conflicting stories have emerged about the $4.5 million wire transfers to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debts. Nothing has indicated Ohtani did any betting. There are still many holes to be filled in on what could become baseball’s worst gambling nightmare since Pete Rose was banned for life in 1989 if it’s more than just some guy getting in over his head while gambling.

News Item – NCAA Tourney Delivers Usual Thrills: Award winners from Weekend 1:

Best Comeback: Daytona trailed Nevada by 17 before a 24-4 over the final 7 minutes made them 63-60 opening-round winners.

Biggest Upset – Yale Over Auburn: Who had Ivy League champion Yale taking out a SEC power when the 13-seed Bulldogs shocked everyone with a 78-76 win over the 4-seed Tigers?

Say What? Award: OK, maybe the student section at Oakland University (of Michigan) has a point saying 14-seed OU’s 80-76 win over 3-seed Kentucky was a bigger upset.

Phew … Win of the Weekend: Speaking of major upsets, after being just the second 1-seed to lose a 16 last year, Purdue fans breathed a sigh of relief Friday when they put Grambling away early in a 78-50 romp.

Biggest Blown Call: With all the stupid use of replay these days, why don’t they have one for a crucial play like in the Kansas-Samford nailbiter? The zebras clearly blew the call on a spectacular chase down block by A.J. StatonMcCray on a Nick Timberlake breakaway in a one-point game with 15 seconds left. It robbed Samford of getting the final shot to conclude a 22-point comeback. Instead Timberlake made two gift free throws and KU won 93-89.

Revenge Win: He’ll probably never admit it, but Tennessee’s 62-58 win over Texas had to feel good for Rick Barnes after being fired as Texas HC not long ago.

The Numbers:

7 – magic number over their last 11 games for the Celtics to clinch home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Of the Week Awards

Bracket Buster Award – Sorry, Charles: That thud you heard was Charles Barkley’s bracket being busted as Creighton ran past Oregon 78-63 on Saturday. Chuck had the 11-seed Ducks somehow making it all the way to the final fame. He also had opening-round 12-seed George Mason loser taking out 5-seed Wisconsin and 4-seed Duke and going to the Sweet 16. Oh, and King Charles went to Auburn, so it wasn’t a good weekend all around for Chuck.

Sports 101 Answer: It happened April 16, 1940, when Cleveland fireballer Bob Feller no-hit the White Sox on opening day, leaving all of Chicago’s hitters with the same .000 batting average every player starts their season at.

Final Thought – How To Enjoy The 2024 Red Sox: First you put a pin in your learned experience from around 1994 to realize they’re not getting within three or four time zones of the World Series. Then focus on watching what happens with their young players to see how good they become by September.

I’m looking forward to seeing if Triston Casas can grow into one of the best hitters, as some believe he can. There’s also the young outfield of Jarren Duran platooning in left, Wilyer Abreu in right and exciting rookie Ceddanne Rafaela, a gifted center fielder who hit .284 with three homers in 64 spring at-bats.

There’s promising second-year hurler Brayan Bello, the first home-grown pitcher since now retired Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester to give any sense of promise. Plus it’ll be interesting seeing if second baseman Atlanta import Vaughn Grissom is the first good team-building move by new GM Craig Breslow or part of the Chris Sale salary dump. And with top prospects Roman Anthony and Marcelo Mayer a step away in AAA this could be the start of a promising young core. Time will tell.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Time to dance

The Big Story – The NCAA Basketball Tournament: The overall top seed is defending champion UConn, who begin that defense at the TD Garden in Boston in a regional that oddly has three of last year’s Final Four teams in San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and aforementioned UConn. Overall it’s 68 teams playing at four sites around the country. Let the mayhem begin for what is the best four-day extravaganza American sports has to offer.

Sports 101: From the all-time leader to fifth, who are the top five career scorers in the NCAA Basketball Tournament history?

News Item – Are Pats Preparing to Tank? The new people in charge of Patriots personnel have been underwhelming so far. Which means after re-signing their own free agents from a 4-13 team, they’ll leave free agency with the exact three needs they had when it started: a big play receiver, a left offensive tackle and a real starting QB, not a one-year place filler with a career record as a starter of 18-30.

News Item – Proposed Trade: Given how obvious the Patriots issues are, drawing up the plan doesn’t seem that hard. It’s a two-year rebuild at best, so we’ll let the QB wait till next year and attack it via a trade down from the third overall pick. The following example (not real) illustrates the concept: Pats give up third overall pick to Minnesota and their third-round pick in 2025 for the 11th and 23rd picks this year, Minnesota’s 2025 first-round pick and receiver Jordan Addison. (90 catches for 911 yards and 10 TDs), then use the first-round picks on a O-tackle and big play guy. Then fill the next biggest needs, a guard and run-stopping D-lineman.

News Item – Red Sox Spring Update: You can’t count on spring training records, but the 14-9 start is encouraging. The two most interesting questions so far: (1) Will gifted rookie Ceddanne Rafaela win the CF job or be sent back to AAA? He’s currently tied for the team lead with four homers while hitting .273 with 8 RBI in 43 at-bats; (2) Will they finally put Tanner Houck in a starting role where he belongs? He’s off to a 2-0 start with a 2.40 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 15 innings.

News Item – Rick Pitino: From his days complaining about no fan support at BU to his excuse-filled stint as Celtics coach to his “it wasn’t my fault” major rule violations that led to his being fired at Louisville, little Ricky is still whining after all these years. This time over 20-13 St. John’s not making the NCAA tournament and then petulantly refusing to play in the hometown NIT.

The Numbers

10 – magic number for the Celtics to clinch home court throughout the NBA playoffs.

Thumbs Up – Celtics: True, the Utah Jazz aren’t very good. But considering the obstacles faced, the Celtics’ 123-107 win over Utah last week earns a shoutout, as (a) it was the final of a five-games-in-eight-nights road trip covering 3,400 miles and (b) it came on Game 2 of a back-to-back, (c) after arriving from Portland, Oregon, at 3 a.m. while also losing an hour due to time zone hopping, and most importantly (d) three of their top six players, Al Horford, Kristaps Porzingis and Jaylen Brown, sat out with injuries. They stayed focused and finished off the road trip with a business-like win.

Sports 101 Answer: With 407 points Duke’s Christian Laettner is the Tournament all-time leading scorer. He’s followed by Elvin Hayes (358), Danny Manning (328), Tyler Hansbrough (325) and Oscar Robertson (324).

Final Thought – A Little History – What a Game! Saturday (March 23) is the 50th anniversary of the most monumental college basketball game in history.

No, not Bird vs. Magic in 1979. That had big TV ratings but the game was boring as Indiana St. was barely in it, Bird played terribly and Gregory Kelser was MVP, not Magic.

This was five years earlier, where UCLA’s never-to-be-matched streak of winning seven straight NCAA titles was ended by NC State in an epic double-OT battle.

With all due respect to Magic and Larry, this game’s stars were better college players, and both played big as UCLA’s Bill Walton went for 29 points and 18 rebounds while David Thompson scored 28 points for NC State. The Bruins let big leads slip away in the final minutes of regulation and the second OT. But after UCLA’s frantic four-shot last gasp, NC State hung in to win 80-77 as the streak finally was ended.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Pats re-build underway

The Big Story – NFL Free Agency: While many deals had been agreed upon during the “legal tampering” period that began Monday, today is the first day agreements can be signed.

The Patriots have done a decent job in re-signing needed vets like TE Hunter Henry, though $11 million per for a third receiver like Kendrick Bourne sounds a little pricey to me. They also likely have retained Kyle Dugger by putting the transition tag on him.

And then late Monday they signed their most important free agent, Michael Onwenu, for three years. Keep Anfernee Jennings, and it’s a very successful first week. And now with Mac Jones traded and some logical bridge solutions going off the board (like Russell Wilson to Pittsburgh), signs are pointing to using the third overall pick.

After re-signing those players, they go into the week with roughly $55 million. How well they can fill glaring needs at offensive tackle and high end receiver will give a better focus on what they can do in the draft.

Sports 101: In the Belichick era the Pats used the franchise tag 10 times on nine players. How many can you name?

News Item – Mac Jones Traded: That’s all she wrote for Mac Jones in New England as he will be traded to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick by the time you read this. His tenure started with his making the playoffs and Pro Bowl as a rookie and ended after he was benched four times in 2023 when he threw just 10 TD passes and 12 picks while going 2-9 as a starter. The only question left is how much of his downward spiral is on him and how much on the chaos Coach B created by making unqualified Matt Patricia OC after Josh McDaniels left for Vegas.

News Item – Top 5 Red Sox Spring Training Stories:

After winning twice over Tampa Bay in the Dominican, the Sox were off to a nice start after their first 17 spring games at 10-6-1.

Promising second-year hurler Brayan Bello was signed to a $55 million, six-year contract extension.

The only pitcher of note added to their weak pitching staff, Lucas Giolito, could already be lost for the season with an injury to his pitching elbow.

No one had more than two homers in those first 17 games.

Believe it or not Mookie Betts will be the Dodgers’ starting shortstop on opening day.

The Numbers:

16 –if you had the under on how many games Ben Simmons would play for Brooklyn you win, as his season is over early (again) after just 15 due to back woes.

100,000 –dollars Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert was fined by the NBA for gesturing that the officials were on the take.

Of the Week Award

Stats of Week: From Boston Globe Celtics beat writer Adam Himmelsbach, who reported that despite having the league’s best record the C’s are just 11-9 in games within 3 points in the final two minutes. Also they’re 1-6 vs. teams with a .600 or better winning percentage since Jan. 1.

Random Thoughts

How much do you want to get rid of a player if you’re willing to swallow $85 million in dead money? Answer: for the Denver Broncos it was about a 14 on a scale of 1 to 10. As that’s their cost to release Wilson just two years after paying a king’s ransom to get him from Seattle.

If tampering is bad, how can you have a “legal” tampering period?

A Little History: Stumbled-On Fact of the Week: From Bob Costas in a YouTube replay interview with Ted Williams: the sacrifice fly rule had not been adopted in 1941 when Williams hit .406. He had six that year, which means he’d have hit .412 if it had been a rule then.

Sports 101 Answer: The franchised players in the Belichick era were Adam Vinatieri (twice, 2001 and 2005), Tebucky Jones (2003), Asante Samuel (2007), Matt Cassel (2009), Vince Wilfork (2010), Logan Mankins (2011), Wes Welker (2012), Steven Gostkowski (2015) and Joe Thuney (2020).

Final Thought – Politics Not As Usual: Not too long ago Fox News know-it-all Laura Ingraham told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.”So it will be interesting to see what she has to say about Dodgers all-timer Steve Garvey’s right to be in politics now that he just won a spot to run for the Senate from California on the GOP side. Guessing since Garvey is a conservative he’ll likely be having his tires pumped on her show at some point.

But Garvey wasn’t the only sports-in-politics story last week. Texas congressman and one-time Dallas Cowboys linebacker Colin Allred won the Democratic primary and now will challenge Ted Cruz for his Senate seat in Texas. Wonder if for him it’ll be just “shut up and tackle.”

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

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