Beckett’s Best Too Much For Yankees; Red Sox Win First Series of 2011

Josh Beckett throws against the New York Yankees during Sunday's game in Boston. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Through their first eight games, the Boston Red Sox pitching staff had thrown a league-fewest 16 1-2-3 innings. Sunday night at Fenway Park, Josh Beckett threw two in the first two innings.

Beckett’s best pitching performance since a June 2009 complete-game shutout of the Atlanta Braves sustained the Red Sox through six innings of scoring anemia, locking down a 4-0 Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees. It was Beckett’s first win in 2011, and Boston’s first series victory.

Beckett Uses Brains and Brawn

Red Sox fans were treated to a classic Beckett performance Sunday night, watching as he mowed down Yankee after Yankee. In eight scoreless innings, Beckett did not allow a baserunner in six. He struck out 10 while giving up just two hits, a walk and a hit batter.

The Yankees’ first of only two scoring chances came in the top of the third, when a single and a beanball put runners on first and second with one out. But Beckett got a grounder out of left fielder Brett Gardner on the second pitch of Gardner’s at-bat. Diminutive dynamo Dustin Pedroia ranged to his right, gloved the ball with a backhand, tagged second base and, with his momentum carrying him towards third, threw to first all in a single motion for the double-play.

Beckett got out of a fourth-inning jam with a strikeout and a ground out.

It wasn’t Beckett’s power that won him Sunday’s game, but rather his intelligence. No two consecutive pitches were ever of the same type, at the same speed or to the same location. Yankees hitters never looked comfortable in their at-bats, always unsure where the ball would end up.

Beckett’s curveball was especially strong Sunday, breaking sharply in a perfect 12-6 motion. If he wanted to bury a Yankee up and in, the curveball would look as if it would dip, but never do so. If he wanted a hitter to swing over it, the curveball’s bottom would fall out, leaving Yankees swinging at air. Beckett induced 14 swings-and-misses Sunday. 66 percent of his pitches were strikes.

Because Beckett threw 18 of 27 first-pitch strikes, the Yankees were constantly fighting uphill battles against both the count and Beckett’s clever pitch selection.

Beckett saved his best pitching for the end. In the sixth inning, he needed just nine pitches to retire the side. In both the seventh and eighth, he needed just eight.

Pedroia Lethal at the Plate and in the Field

After going 6-9 in his first two games against the Yankees, Pedroia added three more hits Sunday night. He finished the series 9-13 with five RBIs, four runs, three doubles, two walks and a home run. His batting average has jumped 133 points since Thursday’s finale against the Cleveland Indians.

Pedroia’s defense was as good as his offense. Although his most exciting play was obviously his third-inning double-play, that play may have overshadowed his seven putouts. Pedroia was rock solid in the field, not missing a single fielding opportunity. In the top of the sixth, Pedroia charged a bunt by Gardner, fielded it and underhanded it to first for the out.

Red Sox Offense Breaks Out in Seventh

Though the Red Sox put runners on base in every inning (and at least two in seven innings), through six innings they had only managed a Mike Cameron infield single in the third that scored Pedroia for the 1-0 lead. In six innings they stranded 12 baserunners. It seemed that every time the Red Sox were on the verge of breaking the game open, Yankees starter CC Sabathia would clamp down and get the necessary out.

In the seventh, however, the Red Sox finally broke through. After two walks and a single loaded the bases off Joba Chamberlain, Marco Scutaro (2-2, 2 walks, 2 RBIs) bounced a 1-0 pitch off the left field scoreboard, driving in two with a double that extended the Red Sox lead to 3-0.

The Red Sox squandered a bases-loaded opportunity that inning when Adrian Gonzalez (0-2 with runners in scoring position; hit on the left pinkie and ring fingers in the bottom of the fifth, but will not need x-rays) flew out to left on the first pitch he saw. In the eighth, David Ortiz plunked the center-field wall for his second night of the game, an RBI double that drove in Kevin Youkilis to make it 4-0.

Carl Crawford led off and went 0-5 Sunday, personally stranding two of Boston’s 16 men left on base. Whatever the correct place for Crawford in the lineup may be, leading off clearly isn’t it. His high price tag may obligate Terry Francona to play him higher up, but Red Sox fans would undoubtedly be more happy with Crawford hitting more but getting slightly fewer at-bats due to a lower lineup position.

In Crawford’s one game batting seventh, he went 2-4.

Book Review: “The Best American Sports Writing 2002”

"The Best American Sports Writing 2002." Edited by Rick Reilly.

Is five weeks a long time to finish a 285-page book? I can never tell if I’m a slow reader or not. Anyway, that’s how long it took me to finish the 28 stories in “The Best American Sports Writing 2002.” So now here’s the review, after which I will read something that doesn’t start with an essay by series editor Glenn Stout (it will still be a sports book, of course).

The 2002 volume was edited by Rick Reilly, one of the true powerhouses of the sports journalism world. By 2002, he was a staple of Sports Illustrated and had already won National Sportswriter of the Year six times. Since then, Reilly has moved over to ESPN and won the award five more times. While some might not care for the lightness and humor of his writing, it’s impossible to deny his talent.

Reilly’s introductory essay carries his trademark levity, but more than that, it carries punch. Peter Gammons’s 2010 introduction has all the weightiness of a true historian of the game. David Maraniss’s 2007 essay loses itself midway, shifting from a diatribe against modern editing to a story about his father. Reilly’s introduction – 10 rules for being a good journalist – makes you laugh, but hidden among the jokes is the knowledge that these strategies work. Reilly is good as it gets, and if silliness is his way of explaining what makes him so good, I will gladly laugh and learn simultaneously.

But you all didn’t read this because you give a crap about the introduction. You want to hear about the stories. So let’s tell ’em.

One of the Best All-Time, but Not the One Stout Thinks

In “The Best American Sports Writing 2010”, Stout said that if he were going to assemble The Very Best of the Best American Sports Writing, one of three stories included would be Bill Plashke’s “Her Blue Heaven,” about Plashke’s correspondence with a Dodgers blogger afflicted with severe cerebral palsy that types using a head-pointer.

The story is certainly well-written. But one of the best ever? Not so sure.

Here’s a question to consider: if you read a story about someone of regular physical ability who spends all day blogging about her favorite baseball team, but the writing is clunky and statistics-heavy, and only her mom reads her stuff, would you think that person is a hero? But because Sarah Morris has this horrible disease, it’s different? Aren’t we just admitting that we so lower our expectations of what a disabled person can do that when they do the things we do everyday (like blog), we’re astounded? Isn’t that just the least bit patronizing? Is this story about one woman’s “triumph over adversity,” or a sports writer coming to grips with his own cynicism?

Before you all start thinking I’m just a heartless jerk, allow me to try and off-set my incredulity. Gary Smith’s “Higher Education” was the first story possibly in my life whose ending made me cry. Literally. I straightened my back while finishing the story on the train, and I felt tears rolling down my face. The story is about an African-American Catholic who becomes the high-school basketball coach in a white, Mennonite town. The story begins like a Hollywood tale, with the coach’s arrival causing a racial backlash, which then fades after he starts winning. But Smith gives so much color to his description of the relationships formed between the coach and his players that the coach (whose name we only learn at the end is Perry Reese, Jr.) comes alive, becoming a person, not a caricature.

I won’t spoil the end completely, but it ends in tragedy. And Smith’s descriptions of the town after the tragedy occurs are so vivid, so resonant, that I started to bawl along with the townfolk. This story is about sport actually changing a town. It’s rare that reality can match fiction in making a point about life, but “Higher Education” does. This story could be in the “Best of the Very Best.”

A New Look at Familiar Faces

Two essays in the 2002 volume found new angles in well-told stories, and they should be commended. Frank Deford’s “Almost a Hero” takes a new look at German boxing star and Nazi supporter Max Schmeling. The story uniquely presents the two Schmeling-Joe Louis fights as the best thing that could happen to the losing boxer. Schmeling beating Louis in June 1936 shook Louis out of a lackadaisical training regimen that was holding him back from true greatness. Louis soundly beating Schmeling in June 1938 kept Schmeling from becoming a permanent symbol of Aryan dominance, forever unwelcome anywhere but Germany. Deford even suggests the two boxers knew that they’d saved each others careers, which might explain why they became such good friends after their careers were over. Deford made a Nazi seem like a decent human being in my eyes. If that’s not a sign of talent, I don’t know what is.

Joshua Harris Prager’s “Giants’ 1951 Comeback Wasn’t All It Seemed” tears to shreds one of the great moments in sports history. Though rumors of sign-stealing had circulated ever since Bobby Thompson hit the most famous home run in history, no one had ever admitted to it. Prager’s account of that game (and season) is the first with multiple corroborating testimonies to prove the New York Giants were stealing signs. That the man who set up the elaborate theft system was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan makes it kind of tragic. But if you’re from Boston, and hate everything related to New York athletics, seeing the crowning moment in Crown Heights history destroyed can’t help but make you laugh.

A Bad Decision, At Best

The final essay in the 2002 volume is Jeanne Marie Laskas’s “The Enlightened Man.” It’s supposed to be an interview with former Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer … I think. What it is definitely is a rambling, incoherent, semi-stream-of-conscious jumble of run-ons and made-up words (“Philisophicalness?” Seriously?). Somewhere hidden in it is a thought about the turning point in every brash young NFL player’s mental approach, but it’s lost amidst words that, no matter what Maraniss might say otherwise, desperately needed editing.

Laskas’s poor writing choice and odd story title suggest one of two things about her. Problem is, neither of them are good. If Laskas thought that Stringer’s words were so deep and meaningful that she should just transmit them without a single “um” or “like” removed, she’s an idiot. But if this is all a sarcastic jab at a man who thinks he’s really deep but in reality is just a big fat doofus, then she’s even worse than an idiot: she’s  disrespectful. You don’t mock your interviewees, you don’t patronize them, you don’t make fun of them. And you especially don’t do it in print. If that isn’t a cardinal rule of journalism, it ought to be, and those who don’t take their subjects seriously (unless they don’t want to be taken seriously) aren’t worth the paper their words are printed on.

Overall, this Volume is Pretty Darn Good!

For the most part, this is the most solid of the three volumes I’ve reviewed. Well paced, each essay is different enough in tone from the ones around it that there isn’t any emotional carry-over, making each article a unique reading experience. Only one real dud. Some of these stories are pretty cool; after reading about a blind man who hiked Mount Everest or ultra-marathoners in Colorado, you find yourself asking, “jeez, what did I do today?” Others are pretty provocative, from the visceral stupidity of the adolescent extreme wrestlers in “Backyard Bloodbath” to the abject sadness of the distance runner suffering from anorexia in “‘Please Let Me Die.'” But this volume will run you through the full gamut of human emotion, and you’ll be happy for the journey.

A Letter to the Nation

Is this the feeling you want about your team, Red Sox Nation? Why not be postitive? (baseballexchange.wordpress.com/category/red-sox-suck/)

Dear Red Sox Fans,

I feel your pain. Really, I do. The 2010 Red Sox were out of the playoff race by mid-August. That means that nearly eight months have passed since they played a relevant baseball game. My God, that’s like one and a third MLB seasons!

Faced with such a long absence, and with the media (of which I consider myself a member, with occasional shame) projecting the 2011 squad to be the best thing to happen to New England since the landing of the Puritans, it’s no wonder you all went overboard in your preseason expectations for this team.

And now, the team has gone 0-6. The team that was supposed to be the first Red Sox squad since 1946 to win 100 games is off to the worst start since 1945. Every day the team finds a different way to lose. Bad start, bad relief, bad hitting, bad running; you’ve seen it all in just six games. How else could you be expected to react but with frustration and anger?

I understand that. But seriously, everyone needs to calm the @*$! down.

I understand that the fatalism and masochism of being a Red Sox fans is so entrenched in Boston’s psyche, and so encouraged by the Boston sports media, that you can’t get away from it. But there are 156 games left in the season. Can anyone actually picture 156 anything from now? That’s 9.75 NFL seasons. It will be 2020 (at least) before the New England Patriots play 156 games. It’s impossible to think that far ahead, so why bother? What’s the point of all that anger?

Let me ask a question: what would you rather have – a team whose every loss can be attributed to the same thing, or a team who loses for different reasons each time? If the Red Sox were losing for the same reason – say, bad starting pitching – every night, we could identify a potentially ongoing issue for the 2011 team, one that might eventually cost them a World Series title. But if it’s a different issue each time, then we’re left with one of two conclusions: the 2011 Red Sox stink all around, or they are going through the growing pains of a team stocked with talent but unsure how best to use it (like the 2011 Miami Heat).

Do we really think this team stinks? No, of course not. So then, just like every 12-year-old child, they must be going through growing pains. And just like every 12-year-old child, the team that emerges from those pains will be stronger, faster, better. This team will get better. It can’t not. Do we really think the Red Sox will lose the majority of games in which Jon Lester pitches seven shutout innings and strikes out nine? Do we really think Darnell McDonald will over-run second base ever again?

If nothing else calms you, remember this: April baseball doesn’t matter. The media wants you to think it does. The fans who pay Fenway’s exorbitant fees want it to. But it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. History has told us again and again and again that as long as your team is still in the race on August 1, you’re fine. The Red Sox will win eventually. Once the monkey is off their backs, they will win more. The rotation is improving. The lineup is finding its proper order. The bullpen is better.

Writers like Dan Shaughnessy and Ron Borges will undoubtedly jump all over this season-opening disaster. I can see Shaughnessy’s next column even as I type this one: some faux-nostalgic b.s. about an old player – probably dead by now – who did something that was way better than everything is now and blah blah blah. Don’t give the Curly Haired Booger the satisfaction. Don’t give in to your baser desires. Stay supportive. Stay positive.

Red Sox fans, you have a choice: focus on Kevin Youkilis’s .105 batting average, or focus on Marco Scutaro reaching base three times and Jacoby Ellsbury twice on Thursday. The choice is up to you.

NCAA Finals Prediction

Matt Howard may be Butler's best player, but Kemba Walker can be the best best player on the court. (http://www.covers.com/articles/articles.aspx?theArt=229093&article)

There have been 66 games during the NCAA Tournament, pairing 64 teams down to two. We’ve seen just about every kind of basketball game there is. Buzzer beaters. Blowouts. Tightly-fought battles. High seeds handling business against low seeds. And upsets galore.

It has been a wild, crazy, unpredictable but eminently entertaining tournament, and now we’re down to just two teams: Butler University vs. the University of Connecticut. The Bulldogs vs. the Huskies. The bustling city of Indianapolis, Ind., vs. the rural town of Storrs, Conn. A program that has produced only four NBA and ABA players throughout its history vs. a program that has produced 30. So who wins?

Can Kemba Carry UConn Again?

This game can be answered in a single question: does Kemba Walker have one more good game in him? During UConn’s 10-game win streak, starting with March 8’s Big East tournament-opener against DePaul University, Walker has scored a little over a third of all the points UConn has produced. In every game since March 8, Walker has been the leading scorer on the team. In every game but one (March 10 vs. Pittsburgh in the Big East quarter-finals), Walker has been the leading scorer on the floor.

Walker’s scoring has actually become even more crucial during the NCAA Tournament. During the Big East tournament, he scored 130 of UConn’s 397 points, or 32.7 percent. UConn’s scoring dipped a little during the NCAA Tournament, down to 345 total points. Walker scored 125 of them, or 36.2 percent.

Walker’s production doesn’t end with his scoring. In eight of the last 10 Huskies games, the guard has also led the team in assists. Even if we went conservative and said that every one of Walker’s 55 assists during this streak was on a two-point shot, that still means Walker has helped generate an additional 110 points for his team. Put it all together, and you see that Walker has been directly involved with nearly half of UConn’s scoring.

When Walker is playing well, he is the best player on the court. If he struggles, the Huskies will be in trouble.

Butler’s Interior Strength

As impressive as UConn’s streak is, Butler’s may actually be better. The Bulldogs have not lost since Feb. 3, winning 14 straight. Their Horizon-league opponents – Green Bay, Cleveland State, Loyola – may not carry the same punch as UConn’s Big East opponents, such as Pitsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville. But in the NCAA tournament, Butler has knocked off historic teams such as Wisconsin and Florida. This is a very confident Butler squad that believes it can beat anyone. They will not be intimidated by UConn’s pedigree.

Butler’s best player is senior forward Matt Howard, who has steadily improved every year. His minutes (30.9), points per game (16.7), rebounds (7.8), assists (1.5), steals (1.1), free-throw percentage (.788) and three-point shooting (.409) are the highest they’ve ever been. Howard is a big man – 6’8″ – who can shoot the jumper as easily as he can play from the low-post. And he’s part of a stout Butler interior defense that doesn’t allow many layups or give up offensive rebounds.

Howard was a member of the 2010 Butler squad that made it all the way to the NCAA Finals, only to fall against Duke University. He knows that confidence can only take you so far, that you still have to respect your opponents and expect the best from them. He plays with poise and focus, and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

The Outside Game

College basketball defense is usually designed to test a shooter’s accuracy. There is far less play in the paint and far more mid-range and three-point shooting. The Butler-VCU national semi-final was entirely about which team had better jump-shooting. Both teams applied full-court pressure and focused on staying with 1-on-1 match-ups until the opponent got near the three-point line. Then they switched to a zone designed to keep shooters out of the lanes. Butler showed a greater vulnerability to this kind of defense at first, but Butler guard Shelvin Mack stroked five three-pointers to lead the team. Howard provided some presence in the paint, although 11 of his 17 points came at the foul-line.

UConn is another team that relies on its guards to score points. In their semi-final against Kentucky, Walker and fellow guard Jeremy Lamb played the most minutes (78 combined), took the most shots (23, making 11) and scored the most points (30 of 56). If Butler forces UConn to shoot jump-shots, UConn has the players to make them pay. The Huskies’ starting forwards and centers are not bad players, but they took 13 shots during the Kentucky game vs. 23 by Lamb and Walker. Their strength lies in their rebounding, especially center Alex Oriakhi.

Walker has shown a tendency to play worse in the face of stronger competition. Two of Walker’s three lowest-scoring games came during the Big East finals against Louisville and the Kentucky game. When teams key on him, his scoring decreases, which brings down the entire scoring strategy for UConn (those games were also UConn’s two overall lowest-scoring games overall).

Butler may want to force UConn to score in the paint, where Howard can be more effective. But focusing on jump-shooters and giving up the lanes runs counter to college basketball-logic.

Ultimately, this game will still be about Walker. Shut him down, and the Huskies will collapse. Problem is, when teams have successfully shut down Walker, the Huskies often respond with better defense. In the Kentucky game, the Huskies held the Wildcats to 33.9 percent shooting and stole 11 passes.

UConn has the best player in the tournament, a defense that can force turnovers, and an offense better geared towards the college game.

Prediction: UConn 65, Butler 60

Homer-Happy Rangers Complete Red Sox Sweep in Texas

Texas Rangers' Ian Kinsler runs toward first base after his solo home run off Clay Buchholz in the third inning of Sunday's game in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Boston Red Sox, so highly touted for their off-season acquisitions, had the opportunity to make a statement against the American League-champion Texas Rangers and reassert their dominance in the MLB. They did not.

In an Opening Weekend series in which the Rangers swept the Red Sox and outscored them 26-11, including beating Boston 5-1 Sunday afternoon, the only statement the Red Sox could make was that they still have a long way to go.

Home Runs Kill the Red Sox… Again

Red Sox pitchers combined to allow 11 Rangers home runs through the three-game series, with nine hit against Boston’s starting rotation. Sunday’s starter, Clay Buchholz, gave up four solo home runs to Rangers hitters. Designated hitter Ian Kinsler and right fielder Nelson Cruz became the first teammates in MLB history to homer in the first three games of a season.

Left fielder David Murphy put the Rangers on the board with a solo shot in the bottom of the second, on an 0-1 pitch down and inside that Murphy muscled to right, straight into the teeth of a wind that gusted at 29 miles per hour.

It was one of Buchholz’s better pitches. The next two home runs came on far worse pitches.

In the bottom of the third, Kinsler smoked a dead-center 2-2 change-up to left. In the fifth, catcher Mike Napoli took a 3-2 middle-inside fastball to center to make it 3-0 Rangers. Both looked like missed-location pitches by Buchholz.

Buchholz pitched into the seventh inning, finally leaving after giving up a one-out shot to Cruz. He took the loss, finishing the game having given up four earned runs on five hits, two walks and three strikeouts. He pitched one perfect inning, in the fourth.

In the bottom of the eighth, Jonathan Papelbon gave up a run on two doubles sandwiched around a hit batter. After intentionally loading the bases, Papelbon struck out the side, 1-2-3.

Clearly, Papelbon can struggle just as he did in 2009 and 2010. But he also clearly can still overpower hitters the way he did in 2007 and 2008. It remains to be seen which Papelbon will show up this season.

Few Positives or Scoring Chances For Red Sox

The Red Sox managed just a run on five hits and two walks against Rangers starter Matt Harrison, who struck out eight in seven innings and earned the win. David Ortiz continued his strong start, going 2-4. Carl Crawford, dropped from third in the lineup to seventh after an 0-7 start, broke through his mini-slump with a 2-4 performance.

In the seventh, Crawford drove in Kevin Youkilis (1-3 with a walk, two strikeouts) with a single to center, making it 3-1 Rangers.

One of the few positives from Sunday’s game was Boston’s infield defense, which started two double-plays and caught two Rangers runners trying to steal. Jed Lowrie also made a nice diving stop in the fifth before throwing out shortstop Andres Blanco.

Boston’s only scoring threats came in the second and the seventh, and Harrison handled both of them with ease.

In the second, Ortiz reached on an infield single and Crawford got his first hit of the season with a single down the third-base line. But Harrison came back and struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0-3, reached on an error) to end the threat.

In the seventh, after Crawford’s RBI, Harrison struck out Jacoby Ellsbury (0-4) with the bases loaded. The Red Sox went 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth innings, two of five innings of Sunday’s game in which they failed to put a runner on base.

A Less-Than-Ideal Start

Whatever the Red Sox expected of their team this season, this was not it. The starting rotation, unchanged from last year, directly cost the Red Sox two games, and failed to protect the lead in a third. Boston’s hitters, meanwhile, were completely contained Sunday after putting up decent numbers Friday and Saturday. The bullpen gave up runs in all three games. Nothing seems to be clicking right now.

Despite Red Sox fans’ disappointment and frustration with this start, it must be remembered that this is just the third game of the season. There are 159 games left. Can the Red Sox win a World Series if the hitters strikeout in key situations, the starters give up runs and the bullpen makes it worse? Of course not. Will the Red Sox be a different team 20, 40, 60 games from now? Of course.

A measure of patience is necessary while the Red Sox figure out what works for them and what doesn’t (such as Crawford’s position in the lineup). After delivering two World Series titles in the last seven years, they’ve earned it.

Take Me Out

The 2011 Boston Red Sox season starts Friday, April 1. It's about time. (www.zaffnews.com/sports/red-sox-2011.html)

I enjoy watching the Celtics, who every year do a little more to dispel the myth that basketball is a young man’s game only. I like watching the Patriots, but it’s hard to enjoy a team that demands nothing short of perfection, and whose players (and coach) don’t often look as if they’re having any fun. I’ll even watch an occasional Bruins game, on the off-chance of seeing a Milan Lucic fight or a well-executed goal.

I enjoy all sports. But I love baseball. And it starts Friday. Today. Even as Boston is mired in winter’s death-throes, the Red Sox start their season against the Texas Rangers in far-away Arlington (Texas, not Mass.). Finally we see if new power threat Adrian Gonzalez and new contact-hitting threat Carl Crawford can be all we want them to be. Finally we see if they can gel with a lineup that is getting its fastest runner (Jacoby Ellsbury), grittiest hitter (Dustin Pedroia) and most-patient player (Kevin Youkilis) back from injury.

Red Sox pitchers will throw upwards of 24,000 pitches. We will finally see if Jon Lester can be the ace of the squad, if Clay Buchholz can take another step forward in his development. We will hope that John Lackey continues his strong Spring Training with a strong second year. We will pray that Daisuke Matsuzaka finally gives something to justify the $103 million the Red Sox paid for. We will fear that Josh Beckett’s numerous injuries have finally derailed his career for good.

We will wonder if a bullpen suddenly stocked with veteran relievers can protect the starting rotation better than it did last year. We will ask Jonathan Papelbon for more than he gave us in 2010, or at the very least graciously give up the closing role to Daniel Bard if he can’t. We will want Tim Wakefield to have an honorable finale to his career. But when he struggles, we will cry for his release to make room for a more productive pitcher. We will feel sad and guilty about this.

The Red Sox will play 162 games from now through September. They will have over 1,500 at-bats. We will see walks, singles, doubles, triples, home runs. There will be stolen bases, hit-and-runs, sacrifice flies and maybe even a bunt or two. There will be errors and there will be double-plays. Strikeouts, fly outs, grounds outs, foul outs, pop outs, and pitch-outs. Walk-offs and blown saves.

There will be at least one shining moment, a pristine bit of perfection that will remind all of us why we watch in the first place. It may be a first-pitch grand slam, a stolen base, or a no-hitter or two.

There will be joy and pain. There will be times when cool intelligence will be used to out-think the opponent; there will be times when raw adrenaline will win out. The season will require time, emotion and energy. We will stay up late for West-Coast games, block off entire evenings for Red Sox-Yankees match-ups, and find something else to do when the Orioles come to town. We will watch from the comfort of our couches and the discomfort of center field (the best place to see a game, in my humble opinion).

The squad will require constant tinkering. It is unlikely any Red Sox trade will be as consequential as it could be in basketball, nor will the team stay completely static as in football. There will be changes to the batting order, the rotation and the relief order. Every lost game, every inning that goes askew, every bad at-bat will be analyzed, then over-analyzed, with the hope that a slight tweak will make sure it never happens again.

A baseball season is unlike any other professional season. This is no one-night stand with the Bruins, a friends-with-benefits situation with the Celtics, or a quick rebound-relationship with the Patriots. This is a marriage. A marathon. An honors thesis. Something else that takes a lot of time.

The shame and masochism of being a Red Sox fan is gone. We no longer expect our team to blow every big game. We expect wins. We expect rings. Hopefully, this year we’ll get both. I can’t wait to find out.

Rondo Out-Duels Parker in San Antonio Battle of Point Guards

Rajon Rondo drives to the basket against the Spurs' Tony Parker #9 during Thursday's game in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo has been in the NBA sine 2006; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker has been in the league since 1999. Rondo was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team; Parker was named to the First Team. Rondo is a two-time All-Star; Parker is a three-time All-Star. Rondo has one NBA Finals ring; Parker has three. Parker may have the stronger NBA pedigree, but for Thursday’s game against the Spurs, Rondo was the better point guard.

Rondo’s 22 points and 14 assists (and zero turnovers) over 41 minutes keyed a Celtics offense that shot 63.4 percent in the second half, beating the Spurs, 107-97. The Celtics went 2-0 against the Western Conference-leading Spurs this season, and have now won the last five games at AT&T Center.

Celtics Close Third Quarter in Style

The Celtics started the second half tied 49-49, then traded buckets for the first six minutes of the third quarter. The Celtics took a 55-54 lead – their first lead since being up 2-1 early in the first – on a Ray Allen (13 points on 3-11 shooting) jump shot after a steal. A quick give-and-go from Rondo to Paul Pierce then back to Rondo for the layup pushed their lead all the way up to 61-56 with 7:35 left in the third.

A 9-0 Spurs run in which reserve power forward Matt Bonner drained two three-pointers and Parker caught the Celtics defense napping and slashed lightning-quick through the lane (a huge problem for the Celtics defense all game) for the and-1 layup gave the Spurs a 65-61 lead. The Celtics responded with a 14-3 run over the final 5:52 of the third quarter that Boston a 77-70 lead going into the fourth.

Rondo scored six points during the run, sandwiching two mid-range jumpers around another layup. A career .487 shooter, he shot 11-20 Thursday night.

When Rondo wasn’t scoring, Jeff Green was. Green kick-started the run by slipping past all Spurs defenders on a fast break, then catching Rondo’s deep pass and laying it in to make it 67-65 Spurs. Fittingly, Green also finished the run by draining two jumpers within 30 seconds. He finished the game with eight points.

No Fourth-Quarter Fade

The Celtics offense found its rhythm during their third-quarter run, and their strong shooting continued in the fourth. Jermanine O’Neal finally returned from injury Thursday night, and Rondo found him under the basket for the layup and a foul, pushing the Celtics lead to 82-72. Rondo himself then knocked down a jumper for the 84-76 lead after Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis interlocked arms at the free-throw line to give him a double-screen.

Though Rondo was the star of the show, Garnett, Davis and Pierce all played strong games behind him. Garnett was lights out, draining 75 percent of his shots. Whenever the Spurs ate a bit more into the Celtics’ fourth-quarter lead, there was Garnett, knocking down another jumper. He scored six points in the last four minutes of the game, and played stout second-half defense, fighting for rebounds. He finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds, playing for 28 minutes despite early foul trouble.

Pierce finished the game with 21 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for his fifth double-double of the season. Twice – in the first fourth quarters – he grabbed his own offensive rebound after missing a shot and put it back in. In the second quarter he came up with a nice steal, then found Allen, who was fouled while shooting. Allen converted both free-throws (6-6 overall, including four in the final 1:07), tying the game 47-47 with just over two minutes left in the half.

Davis played 32 minutes off the bench, scoring 16 points. Despite often having the unenviable task of having to guard center Tim Duncan (20 points, 13 rebounds), Davis also pulled down eight rebounds. In the first quarter, Davis drained a jumper after Rondo caught a pass at the top of the arch with one hand, then fed it to Davis in the same motion. In the third, Davis gave the Celtics a 57-54 lead by grabbing an offensive rebound, up-faking, then laying it in. He also scored on a reverse layup with 1:29 left in the game to make 103-92 Celtics.

Krstic Hurt in Spurs-Dominated First Half

Nenad Krstic’s right knee appeared to bend awkwardly during a Celtics offensive sequence with just over two minutes left in the half. He left the game and did not return. Doc Rivers would not describe the injury in any detail afterwards, but did say Krstic would undergo an MRI on Saturday. The Celtics can ill-afford the loss of another big man.

Krstic’s injury was the lowlight of a first half that belonged to the Spurs. San Antonio’s offense looked perfectly in rhythm right from tip-off. When Parker (23 points, eight assists) wasn’t cutting through the lanes unguarded, he was kicking it out to the Spurs’ perimeter shooters, who knocked down three treys in the first quarter alone. Though the Spurs never led by more than seven, it always seemed as if they had an answer for every Celtics basket.

The Spurs weren’t afraid to shoot the three-pointer Thursday, but they weren’t accurate, shooting 8-29 from beyond the arc. They were more effective in the paint, where they out-scored the Celtics 50-46 and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.

The Celtics’ interior defense often looked sluggish or completely out of sorts, repeatedly failing to rotate to cover the extra pass. Even in one-on-one coverage they were often beat. In the second quarter, Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (nine points, six assists), in a display of the thespian talents that have garnered him so many called fouls, completely fooled Garnett by faking a pass under Garnett’s outstretched arms. Ginobili laid it in as Garnett turned around to look for the pass’s recipient, putting the Spurs up 42-37.

At first, the Spurs dominated the Celtics in second-chance points, out-scoring them 15-4 in the first half. In the second half, however, the Celtics defense bore down, limiting the Spurs to just five offensive rebounds. Boston’s stronger defense allowed them to finish tied with the Spurs in total rebounds, 43-43.