Red Sox Risk Little With Bedard and Fields

Erik Bedard didn't cost the Red Sox much, so he doesn't have to do much to make the trade successful. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Red Sox didn’t make a big splash before the 2011 Trade Deadline. There was no Victor Martinez brought in, no Jason Bay. On the other hand, it’s unlikely the Red Sox traded for the next Eric Gagne, either.

The Red Sox traded for Seattle starter Erik Bedard and right-handed reliever Josh Fields. They in turn had to give up pitchers Juan Rodriguez (a Single-A Greenville pitcher about whom it’s too early to tell) and Stephen Fife (11-4, 3.66 ERA at Double-A Portland), and catcher Tim Federowicz (a .275 hitter with .397 slugging at Portland). Federowicz might have eventually made it to Fenway, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s development this year has solved some of Boston’s catching needs for the immediate future.

In exchange for three minor leaguers, the Red Sox get a decent but not spectacular pitcher in Bedard. Although Bedard is just 4-7, his record has as much to do with Seattle’s league-worst offense as it does Bedard’s pitching. Before injuries killed his last few seasons, Bedard was at least a B+ pitcher. He pitched from 2002 to 2007 with the Orioles, compiling a 40-34 record with a 3.83 ERA. Not bad numbers, especially in the AL East.

Against the AL East (excluding Boston), Bedard is 18-13, although that is helped out greatly by an 11-4 record and 3.41 ERA against the Rays. If Bedard can sustain that level of success, the Red Sox will most likely be satisfied with the trade. Ideally, Bedard provides a stop-gap measure through August that lets the Red Sox ease off Andrew Miller, then maybe takes Tim Wakefield‘s place once Clay Buchholz returns. Miller doesn’t have the consistency yet to be a starter (especially in the playoffs), and Wakefield suddenly has a Pedro Martinez-like pitch limit of about 85 pitches, after which he becomes almost completely useless. A healthy Buchholz and Bedard is the best possible combination of three-four (or three-five, depending on Bedard’s spot in the rotation) pitchers.

Fields was good in Double-A but has struggled in Triple-A. He’s probably not in the Red Sox’s long-term plans unless he dramatically improves. These weren’t the two biggest names out there, but the Red Sox this year brought in relatively cheap talent that shouldn’t hurt the team too badly and might pay dividends.

The Red Sox never did get a right-handed outfielder, and this might anger Red Sox fans. What fans don’t understand is that the Red Sox didn’t need a righty who can platoon in the outfield, starting every game against lefty pitchers. Boston’s starting outfield of Carl Crawford (a career .262 hitter against lefties), Jacoby Ellsbury (.261 this season) and Josh Reddick (.409 this season) can all hit lefties with at least enough success to justify their playing time.

No, what the Red Sox might have needed was a right-handed bench player – ideally one who can play in the outfield – that can pinch-hit against lefty-specialist relievers. So far, Darnell McDonald and his .173 average (.212 vs. lefties), .333 slugging (just three homers and four doubles) and poor base-running has not been that player.

The problem with a player like that is that it’s really easy to over-value him. The Red Sox wanted someone who might very well get just 40 at-bats the rest of the season (maybe even just 30), and there was no way they were going to over-pay for that production. Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence, Cody Ross – these were all players too good for what Boston wanted, so they didn’t bother shredding the farm system to do so.

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League. They have the best offense of either league, and they play better on the road than any other team as well. This last attribute suggests that even if the Red Sox don’t win the AL East, they would still do very well in the playoffs. They didn’t need to add more bats to their lineup; all they really needed was some insurance pitching just in case.

For what the Red Sox had to give up, Bedard and Fields remain low-risk, low-reward trades. Boston didn’t need to add much to continue winning, so they simply didn’t.

Previewing the 2011 Patriots’ Quarterbacks

The 2011 Patriots' fortunes will start and stop with Tom Brady, as they do every year. When Brady's career is over, Ryan Mallett might be his replacement. (Photos courtesy Getty Images and AP)

Sports of Boston will be previewing the 2011 position-by-position over the next few weeks, and I volunteered to preview the quarterbacks. The previews are publishing it reverse order of importance, so my piece will be published last. If you want to read my preview now, read on.

Not every great NFL quarterback won a Super Bowl, and not every Super Bowl champion team had a great quarterback. Quarterbacks need quality receivers, and teams can structure themselves around a running game or even a defense. However, in a league built to protect its marquee players from even minor hits, the easiest way to build a winning football team is to start with the quarterback. So let’s look at the Patriots’.

Tom Brady

Really, what still needs to be said about Tom Brady? Three-time Super Bowl champion. Two-time Super Bowl MVP, two-time regular season MVP. Six time Pro Bowler. A surefire Hall of Famer when it’s all over. Brady is quite possibly the single best quarterback in the NFL. The only knock against him has been his two first-round playoff losses in the last two seasons, and the 2010 loss had far more to do with a lack of pass rushers.

Brady is coming off his second MVP season, in which he passed for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He completed 65.9 percent of his passes and finished with a 111.0 QB rating. All of these numbers put 2010 behind only his 2007 season, in which he broke the single-season touchdown passes record.

Brady accomplished all of this with a recovering Wes Welker and no deep threat once Randy Moss was traded. Welker should be even stronger in 2011, and the Patriots added Chad Ochocinco to a receiving corps that already has Deion Branch and two very promising tight ends. Ochocinco doesn’t quite have Moss’s raw athleticism, but Ochocinco can still stretch a defense out and keep the safeties from cheating up. He also doesn’t have Moss’s selfishness and lack of team spirit.

Brady loves to have four or five options for the 7-yard pass, and the 2011 receivers look even better suited to Brady’s style. Expect more big numbers from Brady in 2011.

Brian Hoyer

Brian Hoyer impressed Bill Belichick enough as Brady’s backup in 2009 that the Patriots began the 2010 season with Hoyer as their only other quarterback. Hoyer did not get any extended playing time until the final game of ’10 season, but he made that final game count. He took over for Brady up 31-0 against the Dolphins midway through the third and connected with Brandon Tate on a Brady-like 42-yard bomb for his first career touchdown pass. He finished the game 7-for-13 for 122 yards and a 111.7 QB rating.

It’s unlikely that Belichick ever envisioned Hoyer as an actual eventual replacement for Brady. Nor is it likely Hoyer will ever be Matt Cassell or Matt Hasselbeck – backup quarterbacks that became superstars for other teams. Hoyer will likely play out his entire NFL career as a backup, only seeing action in blowouts or after injury. Backup quarterbacks don’t have to do much to stay in the NFL, and Hoyer seems to do what little he has to competently enough to keep his job.

Jonathan Crompton

The Patriots signed Jonathan Crompton to their practice squad in November 2010 after the Chargers released him in September. Crompton saw no action with the Patriots in 2010 but was signed for 2011.

It’s difficult to say what exactly Crompton – a fifth-round draft pick – brings to the table. He did nothing at Tennessee before earning the starting spot in his senior year in 2009, when he passed for 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns, which ranks third all-time among Tennessee quarterbacks. He also went 142 passing attempts without an interception, one shy of the school record and reminiscent of Brady’s still-active streak of 338 interception-free attempts.

Crompton is only 24 years old, so in all likelihood his best years are ahead of him. He might eventually become the primary backup quarterback on a team (not necessarily the Patriots), but becoming an NFL starter seems unlikely. He might also bounce around practice squads until he quietly washes out of the NFL. At this point, there’s no way to be sure.

Ryan Mallett

The Patriots seem far more interested in rookie Ryan Mallett, whom they drafted 74th overall and signed to a four-year deal on July 29.

Mallett brings a far more impressive pedigree to the Patriots than Crompton. As a junior at Arkansas, Mallett led the Razorbacks all the way to the BCS Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they lost to Ohio State. It was the first BCS bowl appearance in Arkansas history. Mallett broke multiple Arkansas single-season passing records in 2010, including completions (266), passing yards (3,869) and touchdowns (32).

Mallett may have the most potential of any of Brady’s backups, and at 23 he’d enter his prime just as Brady would finish his career. Mallett may very well be the quarterback of the future, but it remains to be seen how the new collective bargaining agreement will affect his longevity with the Patriots.

Harvard’s George Stubbs Leads NexGen College All-Stars Over Boston Club Team Ironside in USS Exhibition

(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)

It took an extra day to get the lights working at Tufts’ Bello Field, but once it did, the visiting NexGen college all-stars played like it was their home field.

NexGen, led by Harvard’s George Stubbs, took control of the game Tuesday night with a 5-0 second-half run to beat Boston club team Ironside, 15-11.

NexGen was down 10-8 to Ironside early in the second half, but a goal-line stand prevented Ironside from going up by three. NexGen took the disc back up the field, and the University of Colorado’s Matty Zemel found Colorado College’s Nick Spiva in the end zone with a long backhand pass. NexGen then turned on the defense.

“We were playing good defense throughout the half,” Stubbs said. “We started running a little more ‘junk’ in the second half, and we ran off four points in a row where ‘junk’ worked.” Stubbs – one of two NexGen players from a Massachusetts school – said that “junk” is a defensive alignment based around a diamond formation in which players are covered as they move into one defender’s territory. Tufts’ Jack Hatchett admitted that Ironside, which didn’t have several experienced players, had some difficulty solving the NexGen defense.

The University of Minnesota’s Greg Arenson then hit Stubbs on two of NexGen’s next three points, sandwiched around a sequence in which the University of Oregon’s Cody Bjorklund knocked down a pass on defense and then scored on offense.

NexGen’s run turned a two-point deficit into a three-point lead. Ironside would not go down without a fight, with Matt Rebholz throwing his third of assist of the game, this time to Jim Foster (both University of Wisconsin alumni) on a sequence that Ironside controlled from start to finish.

One point was all they could manage, however, before Zemel and Stubbs finished them off, with Stubbs hitting a diving Eric Johnson from Luther College with a low, short-yardage backhand in the end zone for the game winner.

Stubbs and Rebholz each led their teams with two goals and three assists.

The first half was a back-and-forth contest, with no team able to take even a two-point lead through the first nine points of the game. Ironside began with a an upside down, over-the-shoulder “scoober” from Dan Forseter to Misha Sidorsky to go up 1-0, only have to Stubbs hit the University of Wisconsin’s Colin Camp with a long forehand down the near sideline. Camp then threw to Georgia Tech’s Nick Lance in similar fashion to tie the game.

Ironside had some success throwing high passes to Tufts rising senior Sam Kittross-Schnell, who twice was able to out-jump NexGen defenders to come down with the disc. NexGen at-first tried to match Ironside’s length, but eventually switched to short-yardage passes.

“There was a pretty strong down-wind that really carries the disc, and it wasn’t working for us, so we stopped throwing them,” Stubbs said. “Period.”

NexGen’s different offensive strategy allowed Zemel, Stubbs and Camp to go to work, the three throwing for five of NexGen’s seven first-half goals.

Ironside stuck with their long game, however, and scored three straight to take half, 8-6. Kittross-Schnell caught a long pass in double coverage and passed to a wide-open Rebholz to tie the game at six, then after Teddy Brower-Jarus and Seth Reinhardt combined for a score, Brandon Malacek hit Hatchett with a line-drive forehand just over defenders’ heads and into the end zone.

“Our team energy was very high at that point,” Hatchett said, adding: “Everyone on the field at that point was ready to go. Everyone was running hard, and they couldn’t get open. We were forcing them to turn it over, and then after that we were just working harder then them. I think halftime kind of slowed that down.”

Approximately 250 to 300 people attended Tuesday’s game, with between $1,400 and $1,500 collected in donations, according to Ultimate Showcase Series director and organizer Erik Sebesta. Donations (which were also collected Monday, when the game was originally supposed to be played) were split evenly between NexGen’s travel expenses and the Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance’s yout league.

Among the players in attendance were Somerville High Ultimate Players Rory Palmer, Brandon Hamilton, Sam Badot-Fisher and Danny Ly. Palmer said he enjoyed seeing such advanced Ultimate after playing on a still-developing high school squad. He also said he was surprised at how much power NexGen’s and Ironside’s handlers had, something he would like to emulate.
Said Palmer, “I really just want to throw it really far.”

Book Review: “The Greatest Game”

"The Greatest Game," by Richard Bradley

The Greatest Game is Richard Bradley’s exploration of the 1978 one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees for a spot in the AL Championship. The game is best remembered for Bucky “F—ing” Dent’s three-run home run in the seventh inning that turned the momentum in New York’s favor. The Yankees won 5-4, beat the Royals to win the pennant and the Dodgers to win the World Series. Bradley’s account is a pitch-by-pitch look at the game, with brief biographies of the players and managers sandwiched in between. Bradley also takes the reader through the Yankees’ and Red Sox’s regular seasons.

Not a Book for Red Sox Fans

I had planned to write how, were this book published in 2003 instead of 2008, it would have capitalized on the masochistic side of being a Red Sox fan and sold millions. However, two-thirds of the way in I realized that this isn’t a book for Red Sox fans at all; it’s for Yankees fans to learn more about one of their team’s crowning moments.

There’s very little about any member of the Red Sox that most older fans wouldn’t already know. There are brief bios of Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice, but all of this could be learned for free elsewhere. Red Sox historians already know about Don Zimmer’s managerial failings that cost the Red Sox their 14-game lead. Only Red Sox starter Mike Torrez’s deep resentment towards the Yankees a year after helping them win the World Series felt like a unique insight. The rest is just enough background to give off the appearance of objectivity.

Don’t be fooled: Bradley is a tried-and-true Yankees fan pretending to be a sports journalist, and he’s only really a fan of certain Yankees. Bradley calls Reggie Jackson’s eighth-inning home run during the “greatest game” attention-seeking, showboating and arrogant, despite it ultimately winning the game. He thinks catcher Thurman Munson’s arguing balls and strikes and framing pitches makes him the greatest catcher of all time. And in a season characterized by the ongoing power struggle between owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin, Bradley comes down squarely on Martin’s side.

Perhaps Bradley had a family member or friend who suffered from alcoholism, because Bradley is incredibly apologetic for Martin’s attitude and behavior. He has no problems criticizing Steinbrenner’s micro-managing, but he can’t come down on Martin for anything, including ordering reliever Rich Gossage to throw at a black player’s head during a spring training game and calling the player a racial slur (it was really hard to like Martin after reading that).

All of this would be fine, except for one teensy, tiny issue that barely deserves mention: Billy Martin did not manage the 1978 playoff game. Bob Lemon did. Furthermore, multiple Yankees said that had Martin not resigned from the team in late July, the team never would have caught the Red Sox in the first place. So why does Martin get so much ink? Why does Lemon only get a page when Martin gets chapters? Why do I have to learn the entire life story of Martin when I know barely learn anything about Bob Stanley, who gave up Jackson’s home run? Jerry Remy went 2-for-4 with a run, why don’t I get a deep psychological treatise on him?

Too many words are devoted to a person who had nothing to do with the Yankees’ playoff win, and their presence in this book kills its credibility as a work of impartial journalism.

An Exciting Game Made Interminably Boring

Bradley takes readers through every pitch of every at-bat of the game. A review on the back calls The Greatest Game “page-turning.” That is literally true: you do indeed have to turn the pages to continue reading. Most books (except those read on e-readers) work that way. There’s no figurative truth to this term, however: I crawled through this book, plodding through endless diversions, both good (player bios) and bad (extended descriptions of the movement of shadows across Fenway Park).

One third of the way into this book, you’re only through the first inning. The book quickens slightly as it gets through the final few innings, but this book should have been so much shorter.

Take a look at the actual box score from that game. There are maybe 10 players about whom you’d really need anything more than the season stats. For the Yankees, Graig Nettles could be skipped, as could Lou Piniella, Chris Chambliss and everyone who hit in the eight-hole. For the Red Sox, everyone who batted seventh, eighth or ninth could be skipped. Journalism is about discretion, and Bradley lacks it. By flooding us with information, he turns what was objectively a very exciting game (three home runs, two by franchise players, a dramatic late-game lead-change, a near-comeback in the bottom of the ninth) into a boring slog.

Is This Truly the “Greatest Game?”

That question is never answered by Bradley. He takes it as self-evident that this is, as the cover says, “the most memorable game in baseball’s most intense rivalry.” But without explanation of why this is the greatest game – without any real insight into the impact of this game – the justification for how he writes this book disappears.

Perhaps this was the greatest game to that point. Perhaps. 1978 marked the end of dominant eras for both the Red Sox and Yankees. Both teams only returned once to the World Series through the entire 1980s, and both lost. The Yankees rebounded in the late 90s, and the Red Sox followed suit in the mid-2000s.

I would argue the greatest game in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, in which Dave Roberts gave us the greatest steal in postseason history, Bill Mueller beat the greatest closer ever, and the Red Sox pulled off the biggest postseason comeback in baseball history. The game helped forever put the Red Sox on even-footing with the Yankees and wiped out the fatalism that had plagued Red Sox Nation for so long.

Game 4 was, by far, the “greatest game.”

Ellsbury Homers Twice in the Heat to Give Red Sox Series Win in Baltimore

Catcher Craig Tatum looks on as Jacoby Ellsbury hits a third-inning solo home run during Wednesday's game in Baltimore. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It was hot in Baltimore on Wednesday: 92 degrees, with enough humidity and sunshine to make it feel like 100. But not even the high temperatures could match the heat of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury homered twice Wednesday afternoon, leading the the Red Sox to a 4-0 victory against the Orioles. The win gave Boston its fifth series victory in the row, a 4-2 road trip and a two-game lead in the AL East.

Ellsbury Generates the Power, Rest of Lineup Plays Smallball

Ellsbury broke a 0-0 game in the top of the third, when he took a 1-2 fastball from Orioles starter Jake Arrieta into the right field seats for the solo home run.

The Red Sox went up 2-0 when Josh Reddick (2-3 with a run and a walk) led off the fourth with a single, then took third on a double to deep right from Carl Crawford (2-3 with a walk and a stolen base). Two batters later, Jason Varitek successfully pulled the ball towards second base, grounding out but driving in Reddick.

Ellsbury homered again off Arrieta in the seventh, golfing a low 0-1 change-up to right field to extend Boston’s lead to three. His 15 home runs rank him third on the Red Sox.

The Red Sox tacked on one more smallball run in the eighth, with Crawford drawing a bases-loaded walk off Mark Hendrickson to score Adrian Gonzalez (4-5 with a run).

Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 18 games in the fifth, hitting a dribbler down the third-base line and beating out the throw for the infield single. Pedroia then stole second base, but advanced no further.

Miller Effectively Wild, Bullpen Wildly Effective

Andrew Miller didn’t exactly command the strike zone in his fifth start for the Red Sox – the heat probably influenced that – but he was good enough to get his fourth win. The ball frequently appeared to slip out of his hand, sailing far to the left. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 12 of the 24 batters he faced, and nine times went to three-ball counts. He walked six batters and struck out just three, throwing only 58 percent of his pitches for strikes. He enjoyed just one 1-2-3 inning (to be fair, Arrieta enjoyed none).

Miller’s wildness, however, might also have kept Orioles hitters out of rhythm. Baltimore managed no runs and just two hits – both singles – off Miller, and the first hit did not come until the fifth inning.

The Orioles best chance to score came in the bottom of the second, when Miller walked the bases loaded with one out. Even then the Orioles could not score, with catcher Craig Tatum grounding into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.

Miller exited with two outs and men on first and second in the bottom of the sixth. On came Matt Albers, and with him Boston’s bullpen domination. Albers needed just two pitches to strand the two base runners and end the inning. He then pitched a perfect seventh, striking out two.

Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon pitched with the same precision (even though it was no longer a save situation), with neither pitcher allowing a base runner in perfect eighth and ninth innings. The trio of pitchers need just 35 pitches – 27 for strikes – to retire the final 10 batters of the game.

Yo… What’s her Face!

"Rocky," starring Sylvester Stallone, is a work of fiction, but a truer story of sport than most "true story" sports movies could ever hope to be.

My friend Kris Jenson reviews films and video games for the Weekly Dig, a Boston-based entertainment magazine and newspaper. He might very well know more about movies than I know about sports. His ongoing project is to tackle the American Film Institute’s “100 Years … 100 Movies” list. When he reviewed “Rocky” earlier this week, I thought it might make for excellent cross-bloggery if I did the same.

“Rocky” (1976) is the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a past-his-prime boxer almost arbitrarily given a title shot against reigning champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). The film wound up being the start of a six-film journey that would see Rocky become world champion, make Mr. T look so foolish he’d pity himself, single-handedly end communism, and take part in possibly the worst sequel ever made.

A Work of Fiction More Honest Than Most “True Story” Sports Films

As much as I love sports, I don’t care for most sports movies. For every “Miracle,” a true story well-made and faithful to the real event, there’s a “The Blindside,” a “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” or a “Remember the Titans.” The first film was so sappy it could cover pancakes. The second was plain-old stupid. The third was well-written and well-acted, it just has nothing to do with the actual 1971 T.C. Williams football team. The real Titans outscored their opponents 338-38 in their 13 games, shutting out their opponents nine times. Their state championship game was a blowout, and star linebacker Gerry Bertier was paralyzed two months after they had won the championship, not before. Lovely movie, but it has nothing to do with reality. I can’t stand cheese, stupidity or fabrication in sports films, leaving very few good ones.

“Rocky” is one such good one. The story may be fiction, but the portrayal of the life of a boxer rings true. There’s a moment of triumph over adversity, of course, but first comes a brutal portrayal of exactly how much adversity the professional athlete faces. Rocky’s life is crap. He lives in crappy apartment. He has a crappy job, and he’s not even good at it. He has one friend, a drunk (Burt Young). He’s attracted to a pet shop employee (Talia Shire, whose character is the sister of Young’s), but he at first he only likes her because she “fills gaps.” Rocky gave his youth to a sport and got nothing out of it. Only “The Wrestler” (another sports-movie favorite) presents a bleaker take on the life of a professional athlete, and that’s just because Mickey Rourke’s character actually achieved superstardom, then lost it.

Proving Oneself, but to Whom?

More than any other sport, boxing is littered with stories like Rocky’s. The massive profligation of amateur boxing clubs, coupled with the massive corruption of the professional world, created generations of small-time boxers with big-time dreams. And in pursuing but never achieving those dreams, hundreds of would-be professional athletes washed out into the world, disheveled and dejected. Their passion burns strong, but the realization that their passion brought them nothing leaves them broken and depressed.

Rocky is such an athlete. He doesn’t believe he can beat Creed (whose frontal shot in the dressing room before the fight is one of the more subtly unnerving moments in the film, since before then he’d only worn loose-fitting and fancy clothes). All he wants is validation that, given better breaks in his career, he could have had what Creed has. His goal is just to finish the fight, to not get embarrassed, to make a good accounting of himself.

Sports movies are almost always about someone proving something to someone else. “The Fighter” is about Mickey Ward proving his value to his own family. “Any Given Sunday” is about an old coach proving his coaching style can still work with modern media-savvy athlete. And countless sports films boil down to black people proving things to white people that white people probably should have already known. Rocky is about a boxer proving something to himself, and that difference is why it stands out from both the majority of sports films and the five other “Rocky” films.

What Happened to Boxing?

In his review, Kris mentions that all three sports films to make the AFI’s list are boxing films: “Rocky,” “On the Waterfront” and “Raging Bull.” Oddly enough, my professors at BU say that the best sports writing is always boxing writing. There’s something about boxing’s fusion of athleticism and strength – the dance and the war – that makes it appealing to Americans. Baseball may be the most nostalgic, and basketball the most glamorous, but boxing is the most romantic. Or at least it used to be. The one thing “Rocky Balboa” gets right (also the only thing “Rocky V” comes close to getting right) is the death of boxing in America. So what happened?

Three things killed boxing’s popularity: corruption, bad competition, and Muhammad Ali. A system as rife with mob influence, as clearly built to keep a few fighters at the top and prevent the majority from ever advancing, could’t hope to survive. Too much money changed hands under the table, and people lost faith in every athlete’s actual prowess. No one could win a match without people assuming, “well, boxing’s fixed, right?” The boxing commission became a snake eating its own tail, and eventually it devoured itself.

Adding to the problem was the lack of quality heavyweight competitors. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, and the results were the “Fight of the Century,” the “Rumble in the Jungle,” and the “Thrilla in Manilla.” Three of the greatest boxing matches ever, only made possible because two transcendent boxers existed at the same time. There have never been two top fighters in the heavyweight division at the same time since then. Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield – no heavyweight champion since Ali has had a true competitor to battle against. That might have meant easier fights, but it also meant less interesting viewing. And with the increasing costs of Pay-per-View boxing matches, no one wanted to shell out for a match that could not provide enough bang for the buck.

Ali’s boxing career marked its peak in popularity, but what happened to Ali after began its death spiral. You think concussions are affecting how fans view football? How do you think people felt watching the degeneration of the greatest boxer that ever lived? People realized that every blow to the head they cheered for caused a bit more brain damage, erased a few more memories and took a few more years from the recipient’s life. America realized it was watching people kill each other, not fight each other. And they weren’t going to die with honor. Boxing reduced its athletes to brain-damaged, amnesiac, emotionally depressed wrecks who were fated to suffer through decades of retirement, all in the name of entertainment. Very few people can stomach watching an execution, and many realized that boxing was just a very slow execution. America couldn’t watch anymore, so they simply turned it off.

Crawford Singles Twice, Drives in One in Return; Red Sox Clobber Orioles Bullpen

Carl Crawford went 2-5 in his return to the Red Sox Monday night in Baltimore and scored two runs, including in the eighth on a 3-RBI double by Darnell McDonald. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Red Sox needed 16 innings to score one run Sunday night in Tampa Bay. Twenty-four hours later in Baltimore, they needed just half that to score 15. Boston broke a 7-7 tie with an eight-run eighth inning, and Carl Crawford returned to the Red Sox with two hits, two runs and an RBI. The Red Sox beat the Orioles, 15-10.

Boston Batters Baltimore Bullpen in Eighth Inning

Both Orioles starter Brad Bergesen and Tim Wakefield dominated at times (Bergesen in the first and second, Wakefield in the third and fourth), but at other times they were anything but, setting up a 7-7 tie heading into the eighth inning. Darnell McDonald drew a pinch-hit walk off reliever Mike Gonzalez, moved to second on a Marco Scutaro single, then to third on a Jacoby Ellsbury walk. Scutaro and Ellsbury saw a combined 17 pitches in their at-bats.

Mark Worrell relieved Gonzalez with one out and the bases loaded, but he fared no better than Gonzalez. Dustin Pedroia bounced a 3-2 pitch off the right-field wall to plate two, then Kevin Youkilis knocked in two more by taking the first pitch he saw back up the middle.

Chris Jakubauskas was brought in to stop the bleeding, but instead he continued Baltimore’s downward slide. Josh Reddick walked on four pitches to re-load the bases, then Crawford singled to right to drive in Adrian Gonzalez, whom Worrell had intentionally walked. McDonald capped the eight-run inning by doubling down the third-base line, clearing the bases and putting the Red Sox up 15-7. The Red Sox sent 12 men to the plate in the eighth and scored 8 runs.

Crawford 2-5 in Return

Crawford entered Monday’s game 4-10 against Bergesen, making Bergesen an excellent pitcher to face in his first game back. Crawford grounded out to second on a 3-2 pitch in the top of the second, but singled up the middle to lead off the fourth. Crawford later scored from second when Scutaro’s grounder went through Orioles first basemen Derrek Lee‘s legs and into right field. The run put the Red Sox up 4-2, and Scutaro would score on an Ellsbury sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.

Crawford showed no problems with base running Monday night, trying to steal second in the top of the fourth on a pitch that Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled, and sprinting down the first-base line in the seventh to try to beat out a soft grounder to second. Crawford was called out on a play that could have gone either way.

Crawford also flew out to center field in the fifth. He caught or fielded every ball hit to left field.

Wakefield Can’t Hold Lead, Bullpen Takes Over

Wakefield recorded the first two outs of the bottom of the first easily, but then gave up back-to-back singles. Lee then took the second pitch he saw to deep center. The hit’s trajectory must have confused Reddick, who took a very poor route to the ball, getting fully turned around before the ball bounced off the wall behind him. Two runs scored, and Lee made it all the way to third.

The Red Sox took the lead back in the top of the third, with Saltalamacchia homering before the Red Sox hit four consecutive singles. Pedroia’s plated Scutaro to tie the game and extend Pedroia’s hitting streak to 16 games, and Gonzalez’s plated Ellsbury (3-4 as a DH with three runs, an RBI and a walk) to put Boston up 3-2. Reddick’s fifth-inning home run extended the lead to 6-2 after Boston’s two-run fourth.

Wakefield was in line for his 199th win, but two-run and solo home runs to J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones in the fifth cut Boston’s lead to one, then DH Nolan Reimold doubled to left with the bases loaded to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead. Wakefield exited the game one out shy of qualifying for the decision. Because of two passed balls by Saltalamacchia, only three of the seven runs Wakefield allowed were earned.

With Wakefield unable to finish the fifth, the Red Sox turned to Dan Wheeler, who rose to the challenge, stranding both inherited base-runners. Wheeler went 2.1 innings and allowed just a walk. He picked up his second win of the season and helped minimize bullpen usage on a night devoid of fresh arms. Mike Gonzalez took the loss, but it was Worrell who allowed all three of Gonzalez’s base-runners to score.

The Red Sox tied the game in the top of seventh when Youkilis singled off Jason Berken to drive in Ellsbury, who had singled off Troy Patton.

Randy Williams struggled through the eighth, giving up three runs on three hits, a walk and a strikeout, but Franklin Morales struck out the side in a perfect ninth to secure the win.

Boston Militia’s Allison Cahill and Whitney Zelee Help Secure WFA National Conference Championship

(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)

The Boston Militia may not have played their best game of the season Saturday against the Indy Crash at Dilboy Stadium, but most teams on their best night could not dominate the way the Militia did to win the WFA National Conference.

The Boston Militia put up 484 yards of total offense, powering them to a 46-18 victory over the Crash. They will face the San Diego Surge in the WFA Championship on July 30 in Dallas.

The Militia established their offense from the very first drive of the game. Starting at their 20-yard-line, fullback Whitney Zelee ripped off a 30-yard sprint down the right sideline.

Two plays later, quarterback Allison Cahill lofted a pass in front of wide receiver Amy Saur, who had beaten her defender downfield. Saur caught it over her defender’s outstretched hand near the Indy 25-yard-line, then sprinted to the end zone to make it 6-0 with less than two minutes gone in the first.

“Our receivers are excellent,” Cahill said. “I’m going to take that matchup over any [defensive] back in the league.”

After the Militia defense forced a three-and-out, the offense took over at Indy’s 43-yard-line. Running back Stacey Tiamfook rushed for 13 yards, but a snap over Cahill’s head put them at second-and-20 from midfield. After a dropped pass on second down, Cahill once again went to the deep ball, and once again a wide receiver – this time Chante Bonds – beat her defender deep for the touchdown.

After going up 12-0, and with the defense yet to allow a first down, the Militia established their running game. Cahill started their third drive with a 23-yard quarterback keeper, then Tiamfook and Dorothy Donaldson went to work, each rushing for 20 yards before Tiamfook broke two tackles to punch it in. Tiamfook also ran in the two-point conversion to make it 20-0 Militia.

“The good thing about our running backs and our whole team is we have a lot of depth,” Zelee said. “I can sub in for Stacey, Stacey can sub in for me, [Donaldson] we know she’s always going to push hard to the very end, so we can always use her to power in for touchdowns, even run plays. We have a lot of playmakers on our team.”

The Militia scored twice more before the second quarter was halfway through, on a 3-yard rush by Zelee and a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Adrienne Smith. After that, however, the team eased up on the Crash, who scored on a 60-yard touchdown pass to Terri Abraham, a play in which several Militia looked position to tackle her, only to come up empty.

The offensive line then allowed Cahill to get sacked and fumble the ball. The defense kept Indy off the scoreboard, with Briannah Gallo knocking away a fourth-and-5 pass, while Cahill passionately rallied the offense on the sideline.

“I was just trying to remind ourselves of what we’re playing for and who we are and what our goals are,” Cahill said.

The offense responded, going on a 12-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard Donaldson touchdown to make it 39-6 Militia with just under 30 seconds left in the half.

Neither team scored in the third. The Crash – who brought only 23 players on the 16-hour bus ride to Somerville – started to fatigue, turning the ball over twice. The Militia’s only offensive drive ended in a blocked field goal.

It took the Militia’s defense to galvanize the offense. Linebacker Molly Goodwin picked off a fourth-quarter pass in Indy’s territory, then lateraled it to teammate Mia Brickhouse before getting tackled. Brickhouse took it all the way to the 9-yard-line, and two plays later Zelee rushed it in for her second touchdown.

“I just caught it, turned around, just pitched it to her,” Goodwin said. Having never run the play before, Goodwin said, “It wasn’t the smartest play.”

With 129 rushing yards, a 9.9 yards-per-carry average and two touchdowns, Zelee led a Militia rushing attack that totaled 335 yards. Cahill finished the game 5-for-11 for 149 yards and three touchdowns.

The Crash scored twice in the final eight minutes of the game, but it was far too little, far too late. The Militia, however, were not overjoyed with the victory. Goodwin said the defense played “flat.” Both she and Cahill wished the team had played more consistently. Cahill and Zelee both said the team missed scoring opportunities.

“Two weeks, playing two great teams on the road, maybe we just let our foot off the gas,” Cahill said.

“At this point in the season, we want to get better and better each game, which we did prior to this game. We want to go into the championship at our top level. I thought we took a slight step back today, but we’ve got four-ish practices to get it right, and I know we will.”

Boston Militia Run Over Chicago Force and Into WFA National Conference Championship

(written for Somerville Patch)

The Boston Militia ran and ran and ran Saturday at Evanston Township High School outside Chicago. They barreled through tackles, blew past linebackers and eluded safeties. Even the 110-degree heat could not slow them down.

The Militia’s 269-yard rushing attack, led by WFA All-Americans Chante Bonds (64 yards, 10.7 yards per carry, touchdown) and Dorothy Donaldson (49 yards, two touchdowns), propelled the Militia to 50-23 victory over the Chicago Force. The Militia will next take on the Indy Crash in the National Conference Championship this Saturday at Dilboy Stadium.

The Militia took control of the game midway through the second quarter. Already up 20-7, the Militia defense stopped the Force at the Chicago 46-yard-line and took over on downs. Runs of 11 and 35 yards by Bonds led to a touchdown, and the point-after made it 27-7 Militia with 6:10 left in the half.

The Force responded with a touchdown, but All-American Ashley Snyder kicked a 36-yard field goal to make 30-15 at halftime

The Militia’s defense stopped the Force on two straight possessions to open the third quarter, including once after a Militia offensive turnover. Starting quarterback and All-American Allison Cahill (13-17, 253 yards, two TDs, 157.1 QB rating) connected with wide receiver Amy Saur for a 60-yard touchdown pass to make it 37-15 midway through the third.

A botched kickoff return gave the Militia the ball back, and Donaldson capped a seven-play drive with a 2-yard plunge through the middle to make it 43-15 Militia. Donaldson also scored on a 1-yard run early in the second to take a 20-7 lead.

The Militia and the Force traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with the Militia intercepting two Chicago passes. By the end of the game, the score was so lopsided the team began substituting in reserve players.

The Militia scored first Saturday, with Cahill connecting with All-American wide-receiver Adrienne Smith for a 6-yard touchdown pass with just over nine minutes left in the first. Smith was quick to credit others for the victory.

“I really believe the coaching staff was phenomenal,” Smith said. “They researched and studied and created a game plan that was flawless. All we had to do as players was execute.”

Smith also said that the defense – led by linebackers Vicky Eddy (eight tackles), Jenny Olivieri and Molly Goodwin (six each) – shutting down Force running back Jessica Springer (WFA leader in yards and rushing TDs) was also the key to victory.

Militia general manager Frank Ferrelli agreed that coaching and preparation were the reasons the Militia won.

“I was able to watch the coaching staff and the players prepare for this game with each practice with more knowledge and confidence in what they had to do to be successful,” Ferrelli said.

“The intensity level of the Boston Militia was at the highest level all week.”

After Cahill’s touchdown pass to Smith, Chicago scored to go up 7-6, but Whitney Zelee (96 all-purpose yards) scored on a 9-yard run early in the second to retake the lead 13-7.