Ortiz, Hall Homer in Red Sox Victory

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays faced off Tuesday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox were coming off a series in San Francisco in which they won two of three games but suffered several key injuries along the way. The stories of the night would be whether those injuries would hamper their offense now that they were back in the power-oriented American League, as well as whether they could contain Tampa’s dangerous running game. On the hill for the Red Sox was 8-3 John Lackey, who was coming off a no-decision outing against Colorado. The Rays countered with James Shields, who lost his last decision in San Diego and historically had always struggled against the Red Sox and at Fenway Park in particular (1-6 since 2007).

It was a pitcher’s duel for the first four innings of the game. Both teams were able to put runners on the bases, but neither could cash in with runs. The scoring began in the fifth inning. The Red Sox put two men on base with a single followed by a double. But Daniel Nava struck out to make it two outs and it looked like the Red Sox were going to squander another scoring opportunity. On came David Ortiz. On the first pitch he saw, Ortiz cranked a home run to right field, scoring three runs. The Red Sox put up two more runs in the sixth through a series of walks and singles, then put up three more in the seventh, capped off by a two-run home run over the Green Monster by Bill Hall.

The Rays would not go away, however. In the seventh inning, they scored on an Evan Longoria single and would have had a chance for more had Carl Crawford (4-5, stolen base, run scored) not gotten himself caught in a rundown between second and third and been tagged for the third out. They put up four more runs in the eighth and ninth inning as the Red Sox bullpen made a real mess of things. None of the relief pitchers Boston used were able to get the job done in the later innings, walking people and giving up extra base hits, including a two-run pinch-hit home run from Willie Aybar in the eighth inning. Finally, with two down in the ninth and a man on first, manager Terry Francona reluctantly went to his closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who promptly struck out Aybar to end the game. The final score: Boston 8, Tampa Bay 5. Lackey picked up the win, Shields suffered the loss, and Papelbon’s one out of work was good enough for his 18th save of the season.

The Red Sox at the Plate

The two obvious stars of the night were David Ortiz and Bill Hall, both of whom homered. Ortiz’s homer started the scoring, and Hall’s gave the Sox some breathing room. Adrian Beltre also had a very strong game, going 4-4 with two runs scored. Jason Varitek also had a two-RBI night, driving in one with a single and one with a sacrifice fly. The Red Sox might be hurting, but their stars are stepping up to the challenge of carrying this team through the injuries.

The Red Sox on the Mound

Despite just 1-2-3 inning, John Lackey pitched an incredibly strong game. In seven innings of work he gave up just the one run in the seventh, striking out three while walking two. While he was pitching out of jams all night, he never gave in and got out of all but one of them. He also did a great job of starting innings, not allowing any Tampa Bay leadoff hitter to get on base. This gave the Rays far fewer outs to work with, and it made it easier to pitch out of the situations he got himself into. The bullpen was another story. When the starter goes seven innings, there really should only need to be two or maybe three relief pitchers used to close the game (especially when the team builds up a large lead). The Red Sox used five relief pitchers Tuesday night, and only two of them (Daniel Bard and Papelbon, 0.1 innings of work each) were effective. Lackey gave the bullpen a chance to rest, and the bullpen could not capitalize. The lack of relief depth continues to be the glaring problem with this Red Sox team. Thankfully they’d built a lead big enough to survive the minor bullpen meltdown. However, you can only skate on thin ice for so long before it cracks. If the bullpen can’t finish off games without relying on Bard (near the top of the AL for appearances) and Papelbon, they will lose games.

Just One Game Back

With the Yankees losing tonight, the Red Sox are just a game back in the AL East. They have more than half a season left to make up that one game. Right now, they are a nearly-complete team. They can hit and score runs, even when some of their biggest hitters are injured. Their starters can keep them in games or dominate, even with the injuries that THEY’VE suffered. And their defense has solidified, especially in the infield, not giving up extra outs (the outfield however, is still slower than it will be when the starters return). The only question that remains is whether or not they can shore up their bullpen. It should be their main goal before the trading deadline. If they can find one or two reliable arms to pitch when Bard and Papelbon can’t, there’s no reason why they can’t win the division and go deep in the playoffs (and if Interleague Play is at all indicative, they could win the World Series). But if the bullpen stays as it currently is, the Red Sox might find their arms too tired to be reliable anymore come the season’s end. Tonight the Red Sox put some distance between themselves and the Rays in the AL East. Tomorrow they’ll try to do it again.

Beating up Seniors

Dan Haren. Ubaldo Jimenez. Matt Cain. Tim Lincecum. The Red Sox have had to face some of the best pitchers the National League has to throw out there. The end result? A 13-5 record during Interleague play. And really, the Red Sox were a blown Papelpon save away from winning every Interleague series they had this season. That’s domination. So what’s that mean? It means the Red Sox have nothing to fear. If they make the playoffs, they’ll do so knowing they can chew up and spit out the best the Senior Circuit has to offer. The Red Sox absolutely destroyed the National League this year, going from nearly out of the playoff race to the current Wild Card leaders. And with the Yankees looking immanently beatable, there’s no reason the Red Sox should slow down now. I would not be surprised to see them leading the AL East by the All-Star Break.

How do we account for Boston’s success? To begin with, we need to admit that the hitters in the National League are just not as good as those in the American League. The American League’s designated hitter favors power offense, whereas the pitcher hitting in the National League forces teams to play small ball. This changes the nature of not only the ninth hitter (the pitcher), but the eighth hitter as well. Essentially, every NL lineup has two easy outs out of nine in it. That translates to six easy outs a game, or a minimum of two extra innings for starting pitching. When the Red Sox come to town, they may have to downsize their roster a little bit, but their eight-hole hitter is still stronger than their opponent’s. The NL starting pitcher can thus be expected to be eliminated an inning early.

You also have to consider that the later you get in the game, the more likely a team is to pull their pitchers for pinch-hitters. This means that while NL starters get a little extra rest because they go out earlier (I wonder how average pitch count measures up between the two leagues), bullpens tend to get used more. And the Red Sox feast against tired pitching. All it takes is one bad starting pitching performance in Interleague play to potentially kill an entire bullpen for a series. The Red Sox featured stronger starting pitchers than their NL opponents, giving way to a surprisingly more rested bullpen. The Red Sox are proving themselves to be a difficult team to come back against, while their resiliency has shown they can get back into any game that isn’t a blowout.

The only downside to Interleague play this season has been the injuries. Ace Clay Buchholz hyper-extended his knee. Dustin Pedroia broke his foot the day after hitting three home runs. And Victor Martinez hasa  broken thumb and the same broken toe he had earlier. Add this to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett and you realize the Red Sox are limping through this season. That they’ve played as well as they have is a testament to both the resiliency of the remaining starters and the strength of the Red Sox farm system. Darnell McDonald, Dustin Richardson, and especially Daniel Nava have all shown up to play in the last few weeks, which is a wonderful thing to see. They might get sent down later or get released, but the fans should thank them for stringing the Red Sox along until their starters come back. Once they do, they will be even more powerful than they are. And if they get to the World Series, that’s bad news for the National League.

Who Says Soccer Isn’t Exciting?

Never have I been so happy I woke up spontaneously at 8 AM. It meant I could watch the US take on Algeria in their final round-robin game. Coming into the game, the US needed either a win or a draw and an English draw or loss to advance out of the pool and get to the Round of 16. With England taking an early lead against Slovenia (who only needed a US loss to get to the next round, and so probably did not play very hard once they fell behind), it became clear that nothing short of an American victory would assure them a spot in the elimination rounds. The stakes were high, and the American players responded.

Algeria nearly took a lead in the first few minutes, but their shot bounced off the crossbar of the goal. In the 21st minute, Clint Dempsey scored off a rebounded shot, and it looked like this would be an easy victory for the US, as they were dominating offensively. Unfortunately, the goal was rescinded on a dubious off-sides call. This was the second such call in two games for the Americans, the first costing them a victory against Slovenia that would’ve guaranteed their advancement a game earlier. Two blown calls (plus what I’m sure has been several incidents in games I didn’t watch) in a row raises serious questions about the quality of the referees FIFA has put out for this World Cup. Off-sides is a complicated rule, but at that level refs must understand it to a t and remember that, when the ref isn’t sure, tie goes to the team on offense.

The bad luck continued for the Americans through the half and late into the second half. Clint Dempsey once again had a scoring opportunity in the 57th minute, this time off a Jozy Altidore cross, but his shot went off the far post and he could not put the rebound away either. A number of other scoring opportunities also went for naught, as every shot (22 total, 10 on goal) seemed to go wide or right at the goalkeeper. Needing two goals to advance, Algeria put on a few offensive displays themselves, but thankfully all of their shots went wide or were blocked by goalie extraordinaire Tim Howard.

As the game went on, it looked more and more like the Americans were going to suffer the dubious honor of never losing in pool play and yet failing to advance. Their play got more desperate. They substituted offensive players for defensive ones. And they opened themselves up to more attacks from Algeria. Things were looking grim. Then, 45 seconds into injury time of the second half, lightning struck. Goalkeeper Tim Howard collected an Algerian shot and rolled it up to Landon Donovan, who tore up the sideline with the ball. He then passed the ball off to Jozy Altidore, who crossed it to hard-luck shooter Clint Dempsey for a quick strike. The ball hit the Algerian goalie (followed shortly by Dempsey) and rolled free. Landon Donovan streaked in and buried it in the lower left corner of the net from seven yards out. With three minutes left in the game, the Americans took a 1-0 lead, and the stands erupted. Donovan dived for the corner pole in celebration. His teammates and staff mobbed him soon after. With the curtain nearly drawn on the Americans’ World Cup dream, Donovan had finally done what no one had been able to do: score a goal. The Americans won the game and the pool. It was their first pool victory since 1930.

Five players above all else deserve special mention. The first is forward Jozy Altidore. Although he didn’t score, he was constantly moving up the sidelines. He did a great job of setting up crosses and breaking away from the Algerian defense. Like a point guard in basketball, the offense seemed to run through him even though he wasn’t the one knocking down shots. The next player to mention is defender Jay DeMerit. He stabilized the American defense and was responsible for shutting down numerous Algerian offensive drives. Those that he couldn’t stop, goalie Tim Howard did. He is an absolute force in the net. The last two players to mention are Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. While Donovan scored the game-winner and put his name in the history books, Dempsey played excellent offense as well. He had numerous shots on goal, many of which involved breaking away from Algerian defenders who were not afraid to let their arms fly. Dempsey got hit in the face several times, once strong enough to draw blood, and yet no free kicks came his way. He plays with heart, and as long as he keeps shooting, the goals will start falling for him.

This game was a heart-pounder, to say the least. From a personal standpoint, the tension I felt came close to rivaling what I felt in the last few minutes of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It was seriously that intense. And it felt that way for ninety-plus minutes of game play. There was constant offense and defense. The ball was always moving. There were 41 shots on goal and 13 saves. Every near-miss pushed the lump a little higher up my throat. Everyone was on the edge of their seat, at home or in the stands. And when the ball finally went in, the stadium exploded. Soccer has as much potential for tension, energy, and big plays as any other sport. Those who deny themselves this sport on the grounds that it’s foreign or boring are simply missing out.

Rockies Pitchers Frustrate Red Sox Hitters All Night Long

The Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies began a three-game series Tuesday night at Coors Field. The Red Sox were coming off of an 8-1 homestand that saw them move into second place in the AL East, tied with Tampa Bay and just a half-game behind New York. On the hill for the Red Sox was Jon Lester, who was 8-0 in his last 11 starts coming into this game. He was faced off against Rockies right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who had lost his most recent start despite giving up just two earned runs in five innings of work. No Boston player had ever faced Chacin before, so adjusting to his pitches mid-game would be essential.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox never were able to adjust to Chacin appropriately, as he did an excellent job of stifling Boston hitters in his 6.2 innings of work. He allowed no earned runs while striking out five. The Red Sox had few chances to score, and they failed to take advantage in those situations. In the top of the third, the Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs. Victor Martinez, however grounded out to kill the scoring opportunity. The Rockies then scored in the bottom of the fifth on a Todd Helton (2-4, RBI, run scored) single. The Red Sox came back and loaded the bases in the top of the seventh, but once again the opportunity proved fruitless, as pinch-hitter David Ortiz grounded out. The 1-0 Colorado lead continued until the eighth inning, when Ryan Spilborghs, with two men on, hit a ball towards shortstop Marco Scutaro. The ball bounced over his head, and an insurance run came around to score. The Red Sox got one run back on an Adrian Beltre double and Mike Cameron RBI single, but the game ended on a grounder from Mike Lowell with the tying run on first base. The final score: Rockies 2, Boston 1. Chacin picked up the win, Lester the hard-luck loss, and Matt Belisle picked up his first save of the season.

Red Sox at the Plate

The two big players for the Red Sox offense tonight were Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron. Both collected two hits, with Beltre picking up a run and Cameron an RBI. They were key in Boston’s almost-rally in the ninth inning. Adrian Beltre’s hits extended his hitting streak to 11-games (Dustin Pedroia’s streak, meanwhile, halted at 10, though he did walk twice). These two players aside, the Red Sox offense was completely stifled Tuesday night. They left eight men on base, going just 1-5 with runners in scoring position. They also grounded into two double-plays. Chacin had his fastball and breaking ball moving well tonight, and it kept the Red Sox hitters off-balance. All night long they were one hit away from tying or taking the lead, but that hit never came. Overall, the Red Sox offense will look back at this game as one they should’ve had.

Red Sox on the Mound

Jon Lester did not deserve the loss tonight. In six innings of work he gave up just one earned run while striking out six and walking just one. Most nights of the week, that’s a winning effort. The loss really should fall to Boston’s once-again shaky bullpen. Hideki Okajima, in just two-thirds of an inning, gave up three hits, including the key single that drove in Colorado’s insurance run. While the rest of the Boston bullpen performed adequately, this one run turned out to be most costly. The bullpen must be able to keep the Red Sox in games where they are down late in the game to give the offense a chance. Boston would’ve at least tied the game with their ninth-inning rally had it not been for Okajima’s inability to pitch Tuesday night. He is nowhere near the All-Star he was three years ago and he needs to step his game up this season. The only plus from this game was that other Boston bullpen pitchers, such as Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen, are proving they can be effective. The Red Sox will need more than two relievers that they can rely on if they’re going to go anywhere this season (and possibly postseason). This will be especially evident at National League parks, where starting pitchers will often come out earlier for pinch-hitters than they would in American League parks (which is exactly what happened Tuesday night).

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

This game came down to a combination of solid Colorado pitching and blown Boston opportunities. The Red Sox, or at least the lineup they sent out Tuesday night, did not look equipped to function as a National League offense. They will need to figure out how to score in NL parks if they want to keep or advance their place in the AL East standings during this upcoming road trip. Wednesday night they will face Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez. Scoring opportunities will be hard to come by, so it will be essential for the Red Sox to take advantage of any such opportunities presented to them. Hopefully they will. If they can’t, they will likely be looking at their first series loss in quite some time.

Thank you, Celtics

Wow, 150 posts!

Let me start this off by thanking the Celtics. They gave us a wonderful playoff run where they played above and beyond expectations. They erased the frustrations of the latter two-thirds of the season. They took on the likes of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant. They took the finals to seven games. They played as much basketball as they were capable of. And it was a blast to watch every second of it. That’s why when Game 7 ended, I was not devastated. I was thankful for the Celtics doing everything they possibly could to make sure our summer had more than just baseball in it (besides the World Cup).

As for Game 7 itself, the reason the Celtics lost is the same reason they lost games 1, 3, and 6. They couldn’t rebound and they fouled too much. The shooting went cold. And the Celtics just ran out of gas. In the end, I think every Celtic played as hard as they possibly could… and they came up just short. The Lakers were a little younger, they were a LOT longer, and they had too many role players. The Celtics were able to win against single-player teams like the Heat and the Cavaliers. Against the Magic they were more physical and exploited the Magic’s (i.e. Dwight Howard’s) inability to hit free throws. The problem is, none of those advantages came into play against the Lakers. They had two solid players in Kobe Bryant in Pau Gasol, and role players Ron Artest and Derek Fisher stepped up when the spotlight fell on them. The Lakers were just as physical as the Celtics, only they were longer. What were Celtics fouls were just Lakers blocks. And the Lakers were solid at the line. Everything the Celtics had in their favor fell by the wayside for the NBA Finals. So the Celtics were left to just scrap and try to hang with Lakers, and in the end they couldn’t.

We shouldn’t feel bad about this loss. The Lakers were a 1-seed with home-court advantage, and the Celtics were a 4-seed playing above and beyond what everyone thought they were capable of. This was not an upset by any stretch of the imagination. Add to that Perkins’ bad-luck injury in Game 6 (seriously, how ironic is it that Perk avoids the seventh technical foul for six games, only to injure himself and miss the seventh game anyway?), and you have a seven game loss. This series will go down as one of the quirkier of all time. No team had a single dominating game. No team ever built up a serious advantage. No team had the absolute edge. And no team held home-court perfectly. It was as unpredictable as it was exciting. As sports fan, it was all that we could ask for.

I’m a little bummed out because I think this was the Celtics’ last chance to win it all for a few years. The Big Three will start next year a year older. Paul Pierce will probably swing even more towards picking up offensive fouls on his herky-jerky drives instead of getting to the line. God knows what the condition of Kevin Garnett’s knees will be. And Ray Allen may not even be here. Add to that Perkins’ likelihood of starting the season on the disabled list, plus the possibility of a new coach, and you have all the makings of a “rebuilding year.” You can certainly build a team around Rajon Rondo, and a healthy Glen Davis for a whole season is an encouraging thought, but you’ll need more than that to win the whole thing. And the superstars are all going to go elsewhere come free agency. So next year will probably be a bit of an off year. That’s o.k. We’ll always have 2008, and to a lesser extent 2010.

Red Sox Grind out Sweep Against Dodgers

The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers faced off Sunday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had already taken two of three from the Dodgers and were looking for the sweep. On the hill for the Red Sox was Clay Buchholz, looking to move into first place (tie) in the American League with his tenth win of the season. The Dodgers countered with right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who was coming off a five inning shutout against the Cincinatti Reds.

Both pitchers pitched well enough to get the win, with neither allowing much in the way of extra base hits (each starter allowed just a double). The Dodgers loaded the bases in the first but Buchholz was able to get out of the jam. The Red Sox then scored in the bottom of the first thanks to a series of infield hits, the run-scoring one dribbling down the third base line and hitting the third base bag. The Red Sox scored again in the third on a David Ortiz sacrifice fly, but that was all the scoring there would be. The rest of the night was a combination of strong hitting and wasted opportunities. In the end, the early scoring for the Red Sox held up, and Boston won, 2-0, completing the sweep. Buchholz picked up his tenth win, Kuroda the loss, and Jonathan Papelbon worked a perfect ninth inning for his 16th save.

The Red Sox at the Plate

The offensive star of the night without a doubt was Dustin Pedroia. He went 3-4 for the evening and was involved in both scoring plays Boston made. In the first inning, he reached base on an infield single, then stole second and went to third because no one was covering. He wound up scoring on Kevin Youkilis’s (1-4, RBI) dribbler up the third base line. In the third inning, his single moved Marco Scutaro (1-4, R) from first to third. Scutaro then scored on Ortiz’s sacrifice fly. He also hit a triple in the eighth inning, turned two double-plays, and made a fine sliding stop of another grounder in the top of the fourth inning. He was by far the most productive player at the plate or in the field. On a side note, new sensation Daniel Nava continued to hit, going 1-2. His average stands at a torrid .370.

The Red Sox on the Mound

Clay Buchholz started this game poorly and finished it strongly. Though he struggled with his command (at least at first), he did an excellent job of making the big pitch when it counted. With the bases loaded and only one out in the first, Buchholz picked up a key strikeout and then induced a groundout to kill the threat. It was Los Angeles’s first and best chance to score. Eventually, he found his groove, at one point retiring 10 Dodgers in a row. His stat line- 6.2 innings, 0 ER, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts- shows that this was probably not his single best performance of the year. But it was definitely good enough. Buchholz is proving he can still be effective and win without his best command, and that he has the maturity to not let early-game struggles throw him off his pitching rhythm. The bullpen was again spectacular, as the Red Sox only needed to use Daniel Bard (who used just one pitch to quell a two-baserunner threat in the seventh) and Jonathan Papelbon, their two most reliable bullpen pitchers.

Second Place!

With this win, the Red Sox moved into second place in the AL East, tied with Tampa Bay and just a game behind New York. Everything is clicking for the Sox right now, who went 8-1 on this homestand. The pitchers are getting it done. The defense is doing its job. And the offense is exploding… except when it doesn’t, like tonight. But even in cases like tonight, when the offense isn’t as good as it has been (just seven total hits, two walks drawn), the Red Sox are showing they can still win. They can win with infield hits and stolen bases, or then can win with home runs. They can win with great pitching and they can win with just above-average pitching. The important thing is, they’re winning. And they’re right back in the thick of the race.

Keys for Playing Ultimate Disc

Attention Ultimate Rookies: first off, I love you. I love Ultimate Disc, and I love it when new players join competitive leagues to learn the game. I also recognize that you ARE rookies, and as such don’t necessarily know everything just yet about how to play the game well. That’s o.k. I’m here to help. Below is my advice to every player out there on how to be successful in Ultimate Disc.

1) Be aggressive. Yes, a good offense works best when there aren’t too many cuts coming from all over the place. But nothing is more frustrating to a handler than to look up field and see nobody cutting at all. If you’re in the stack, pay attention to the person covering you and to the person with the disc. If you don’t see anyone making a move, it’s probably because you’re in the best position to make the move. So cut, and cut hard. It doesn’t matter if you get the disc. As long you make a good hard cut, and then head back into the stack so your mark can’t clog up the lane, you’ve done your job. Keep cutting and you’ll start getting open. Then you’ll start getting the disc.

2) Know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your teammates’. It’s very common for newer (and veteran) players to “want to be the hero” and go deep all the time. The problems with this are myriad. For one, not everyone is built to be a deep threat. It could be a lack of speed or jumping ability. It could be an inability to read the direction of the disc when it’s high in the air. It may be as simple as the mark is playing you tight enough that s/he can cover you on the deep throw. It may also be that the person with the disc doesn’t have a deep throw in his/her arsenal. Going deep all the time will give away your offensive strategy to the other team and usually winds up just wasting a lot of energy. Make sure you vary your cuts. Go in, go out, go force-side, go break-side. But be active and don’t just keep going for the score all the time. Remember, nobody likes a cherry-picker.

3) Keep your mark in front of you. If you’re last-back on defense, shade your mark so that s/he has to cut in to get the disc. Even if you give up a ten-yard pass, that’s certainly better than giving up a score. And if you are last-back, watch for cutters from the front of the stack. The defensemen in front are more likely to shade their marks away, and sometimes a player will try to take advantage of that by going deep. When that happens, give up on your mark, call for a switch, and go with the away cut. Try to do this before the deep cutter gets past you so you’ll have a couple steps on him/her. Switching defenses can be the most deceptive play in Ultimate Disc, as an offense will suddenly go from having two players with steps on their defenders to two players being sandwiched between those same defenders. Often times the handler will not pick up the switch in time and throw a turnover. Keeping cutters contained is the best way to keep them out of the endzone.

4) Know the force and hold it. It’s frustrating having to yell “other side” at a player in the field. If you’re forcing forehand, shade to left flank of your mark. If you’re forcing backhand, shade to the right flank. Again, don’t try to be a hero by over-committing and going for the hand-block. That’s a nice added bonus, but you’re main job is to prevent the break-side throw. If you’re in the field, your job is to not allow your mark to get by you. So stay to the force-side at all times, even if your mark goes break-side. Defense is a team effort, and you have to trust your teammates to prevent the break-side throw.

So there you have it, rookies. Some basic advice that might help improve your Ultimate play. Cut aggressively, cut to a variety of spots on the field, remember that defense is a team effort, and keep your marks contained. Understand these key concepts and the rest will come with time. Until then, just keep playing, and have fun!

Writing Helps

So I’m watching the Celtics get completely devastated by the Lakers. In the past, I would’ve been cursing, screaming, banging my fists into sofas and tables. But not tonight. Tonight I remain calm in the face of failure. This is a new situation for me, the ability to stay in emotional control during a sporting event. And I wonder why.

It’s been almost a year since I wrote about the difficulty in watching and reporting about the teams you care about when they’re stumbling. I questioned whether it was possible to remain objective and a fan. After a year of covering Boston sports, I think I’ve come up with a decent process by which I can put my fan disappointment aside in the face of journalistic objectivity: write, write and write.

I know what it’s like to follow a struggling team. You feel every loss deeply. You lose sleep. You struggle to come up with explanations. And you hold onto this very hardened hope that your team can somehow turn things around. I used to feel like this all the time. But in the last year, frequently writing about my teams, both the games they play and the general state they’re in, has helped me learn how to deal with team losses in a more healthy manner. The process of writing and analyzing shifts the game in my brain. It goes from the right side, the emotional side, to the left side, the analytical side. This transfer helps keep everything in perspective. Gone are the sleepless nights. The writing process helps me come to understand WHY my team performed the way it did, and that makes it easier. I find I don’t get too high when they win, nor do I feel too low when they lose.

This does not mean I don’t care about my teams any more. I still deeply love those players who toss on a uniform and represent the city of Boston. And you can’t watch sports and be devoid of passion altogether. To do so is to miss the point of athletic fandom. But I come from a city full of people who carry every sports win and loss with them like it’s the most important thing in the world. And I’m positive it’s contributed to the hardness you find in the city of Boston. So maybe everyone needs to calm down a little bit.

In terms of tonight’s game, what went wrong far overshadows anything that might have gone well. The Celtics sucked it up tonight. They couldn’t defend. They couldn’t shoot. Perkins sprained his knee. And the team played with none of the flow, rhythm or urgency we’ve seen this postseason. The Lakers decimated Boston 89-67, and Boston deserved it.

People will go to bed angry tonight. My advice to them is to stop and think. Think about what exactly happened. But don’t get angry. Don’t get emotional. Remain calm. Remember that the Celtics have come back from bad losses this postseason and won the next game. Remember that in basketball everything evens out, so a good night of shooting from the Lakers role-players will probably be balanced out by a bad night on Thursday. And remember that it’s just sports, and that it has no real bearing on our lives beyond moments of joy and pain.

And when all else fails, fire up Microsoft Word and start writing.

The Tale of Daniel Nava

We all saw or at least heard about the heroics that took place Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. Second inning. Bases loaded. And on walks Daniel Nava. With one swing of the bat, he clears the bases with a grand slam to the Red Sox bullpen. It was only the fourth time in MLB history that a rookie had hit a grand slam in his first at-bat. It was only the second time that it had happened on the FIRST PITCH of the at-bat. With one swing of the bat, Nava shifted momentum Boston’s way (they eventually won, 10-2), cemented his place in Boston lore, and earned his way into the history books. It remains to answer this one simple question: who the heck is Daniel Nava?!?

Early Life

Daniel Nava was born February 22, 1983, in Redwood California. He played baseball in high school and eventually went on to Santa Clara University. Failing to make the team, he became the team manager. Due to inability to pay tuition, Nava left Santa Clara after just two years. He went on to play babseball for the College of San Mateo, a junior college, where he became an All-American. Recognizing what they had lost, Santa Clara offered him a full scholarship to return and play baseball for them, which he did, earning first-team All-WCC honors in his lone year with them.

Minor League Career

Daniel Nava went undrafted after he graduated and signed with an independent team, the Chico Outlaws. Though he was initially cut by the team, they brought him back a year later. Batting .371 with a 1.100 OPS, Baseball America named Daniel Nava the highest rated independent prospect in the country.

In 2007, the Red Sox bought Nava from the Outlaws for $1 with the promise $1499 more if they kept him past spring training. They did and assigned him to low Single-A Lancaster, where he hit .341 with an OPS of .948. He moved up to Single-A Salem in 2009, where he hit .339. He was later called up to Double-A Portland, where he batted .364 with a .991 batting average. He finished out the year with the Sea Dogs, then was moved up to Triple-A Pawtucket to start the 2010 season. He was called up to the majors and made his debut June 12, 2010. And that takes us back to Saturday’s game.

Fun Facts

Daniel Nava plays guitar with his brother on drums at church.

His father is a fitness instructor and coach.

He leaves a ticket at every Pawtucket Red Sox game for ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews.

His Place on the Red Sox

With two days under his belt (he went 2-4 Sunday, including a 2-out ninth inning RBI), Daniel Nava has already proven he is a better option in outfield than most of the bench players and minor leaguers that the Red Sox have been trotting out to fill in for their injured starters. He plays with the urgency of a player looking to prove he belongs at the professional level. He provides excellent power out of the ninth spot in the line-up. And he has already shown some acumen for playing with the Green Monster at his back. As long as his hitting stays hot, there’s no reason not to let him stay in the majors for as long as he can play. He is a wonderful story of perseverance and paying your dues, and we are all lucky to have such a story playing itself out for the Red Sox.

A First Time Experience with the World Cup

I didn’t know what to expect when I trekked down to the Green Briar in Brighton Center to watch the US take on England in their first match in pool play for the 2010 World Cup. After all, who likes soccer? Especially after the US failed to qualify out of their pool during the 2006 World Cup. But after spending a couple days hanging out with an English soccer fanatic and getting a crash course in who’s good and who’s great in the world, I decided to check it out. And I’m so glad I did. What I got was a wonderful two hours of sport.

First the match recap. Things were looking down for the US in the opening minutes of the first half. Less than four minutes in, English midfielder Stephen Gerrard put his team up 1-0. England was pressing offensively and the American defense got a bit overwhelmed. A quick pass to the side to Gerrard and he easily beat the defenseman and then goalkeeper Tim Howard for a quick score. However, England seemed to back off offensively after that. It almost seemed like they were content with their one goal and wanted to just play defense to try and preserve the 1-0 lead instead of trying to add to it. Now, I understand that soccer games are commonly low-scoring. However, 86 minutes is too much time to just play defense. And America made them pay. In the 40th minute of play, Clint Dempsey received the ball 40 feet from the goal, turned, and fired. The ball went straight at English goalkeeper Robert Green, but Green mishandled it and it found its way to the back of the net. The game was tied at 1-1.

In the second half, England went on the offensive again. Thanks to far more accurate passing (81.8% vs. 62.2%), England did an excellent job of keeping possession (57% vs 43%) of the ball and keeping it near the US goal. However, stingy defense and some great Tim Howard saves prevented England from scoring at all in the second half. The US, meanwhile, had to play defense most of the second half. They had one second-half drive that looked promising, when forward Jozy Altidore beat his defenseman to the ball and dribbled past him. He pushed it towards the goal and got the shot off, but the English goalkeeper got his hands on it and deflected it off the left goal-post. The US never really mounted another attack after that, content to play for the draw. Eventually, the English tired out and stopped mounting their attacks with suck ferocity. Game play slowed in the last few minutes, and by the end it was clear both teams would settle for the draw. The game ended 1-1, with both teams getting one point in pool play. All in all, not bad for the US, considering how strong the English team is.

I had a blast watching this game. The bar exploded when Dempsey scored his miracle goal (and it really was more of a lucky break than a well-played ball). Chants of USA and “If you won the war, clap your hands” resonated throughout the building. And surprisingly, the American fans drowned out the British ones. I’m not surprised we had better numbers (it’s our country after all), but that we matched the English fans in intensity was new to me.

Soccer is a far more exciting sport than I initially gave it credit for. To just look at the score is to ignore the quality of play. Yes, only two goals were scored. But there were 30 shots in this game, 10 of which were on net. The goalies made exciting saves, the defenders made quality tackles, and the offenses balanced between individual explosive efforts and coordinated team attacks. These are true athletes playing the most popular sport in the world. And the fact that America denies itself this sport (or at least marginalizes it into the fairly unpopular MLS) is unfortunate. There is the same athleticism, the same conviviality of fandom, and the same intensity. These games have just as much meaning to their fans, maybe more so considering the infrequency of the World Cup. This is rivalry on a global scale. Any true sports fan can and should embrace this.