Prince Fielder Homers and NL Pitchers Shutdown AL in 82nd All-Star Game

Milwaukee Brewer Prince Fielder's three-run home run in the fourth inning of Tuesday's 82nd All-Star Game at Chase Stadium in Phoenix powered the National League to a 5-1 victory and won Fielder the MVP award. (Jim Young / Reuters)

Adrian Gonzalez may have out-homered Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder at the Home Run Derby, but Fielder’s home run mattered most Tuesday night at the 82nd All-Star Game at Chase Stadium in Phoenix. Fielder’s three-run home run off Texas’ C.J. Wilson in the fourth inning drove in the winning runs, and National League pitchers limited American League hitters to just six hits and a walk in a 5-1 NL victory over the AL. With the victory, the NL claimed home-field advantage for the World Series.

Wilson Struggles in Relief

The AL’s first three pitchers – Los Angeles’ Jered Weaver (Angels), New York’s David Robertson (Yankees) and Seattle’s Michael Pineda – limited the NL to a single and a walk, and Gonzalez cleaned out an 0-1 cutter from Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee to right-center in the top of the fourth for the first All-Star Game home run since 2008, putting the AL up 1-0.

Wilson struggled right out of the gate to start the bottom of the fourth, however, giving up back-to-back singles to New York’s Carlos Beltran (Mets) and Los Angeles’ Matt Kemp (Dodgers). Wilson got Fielder to two strikes, but Fielder then took a 2-2 offering all the way to the center field wall. The ball landed on the yellow line across the top and bounced over to give the NL a 3-1 lead.

The NL went up 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth when Los Angeles’ Andre Ethier singled to drive in Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks, then up 5-1 in the seventh on a ground-rule double by San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval that scored Houston’s Hunter Pence.

The AL had one last chance to get back in the game in the top of the ninth, putting men on second and third with one out against Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan. But San Francisco’s Brian Wilson – whose lineup announcement and post-game interview may have been the most entertaining parts of the night – retired both batters he faced to pick up the save. Wilson took the loss.

The win went to Washington’s Tyler Clippard, who relieved Lee with two men on and two outs in the fourth. Clippard gave up a single to left to Texas’ Adrian Beltre, but Toronto’s Jose Bautista unwisely tried to score from second on the shallow hit to left field, and Pence threw him out easily at home.

For his three-run home run, Fielder was named MVP of the game.

Starters Weaver (one scoreless inning, one walk, one strikeout) and Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay (two perfect innings, one strikeout) did not factor in the decision.

NL Pitchers Dominate AL

The AL may have more powerful hitters, but the NL proved it has far superior pitching. NL combined for six 1-2-3 innings Tuesday night, with only four pitchers allowing even a base runner.

The AL had only two real scoring chances. Bautista ran the AL out of one in the fourth, and Wilson shut down the other in the ninth. Beyond those two innings, the AL put just one man on base: Kevin Youkilis, on a seventh-inning single off Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens.

AL pitchers, meanwhile, threw just two 1-2-3 innings: Pineda in the third, and Texas’ Alexi Ogando in the eighth.

How Boston’s All-Stars Performed

Gonzalez’s home run was the offensive highlight of the night for the AL, although he grounded it out in his first at-bat. Defensively, Gonzalez cleanly fielded a leadoff grounder from Weeks and took it to the bag himself for the first NL out of the game.

Josh Beckett warmed up to pitch the second inning, but decided not to pitch when he felt soreness in his recently hyperextended left knee. Robertson, his replacement, pitched a scoreless second inning, giving up a single and striking out one.

Youkilis’ single in his only at-bat broke up a string of eight AL hitters retired in a row.

David Ortiz went 0-2 with a strikeout. Jacoby Ellsbury took over in center field to start the fifth, then struck out in both his at-bats.

Robinson Cano Beats Adrian Gonzalez in AL-Dominated Home Run Derby

David Ortiz's American League out-homered the National League 76-19, with Robinson Cano beating Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round. (Getty Images/boston.com)

I won’t say that David Ortiz chose his American League teammates for Monday’s 2011 State Farm Home Run Derby at Chase Stadium in Phoenix better than Milwaukee Brewer Prince Fielder chose his from the National League. But if players were possible Holy Grails, Fielder would have long since turned to dust, whereas Ortiz would be chilling with Sean Connery.

New York Yankee Robinson Cano beat Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round, and the AL out-homered the NL, 76-19.

A Record-Setting Final Round

Gonzalez opened the final round with 11 home runs: no small feat considering his pitcher, Indians manager Manny Acta, was chosen essentially at random minutes before the first round.

Acta did not throw the ball with quite the consistency that Gonzalez might have wanted, pitching all over the plate instead of to the same spot. If Acta’s pitch drifted away, however, Gonzalez wasn’t above hitting a center-field or opposite-field home run.

Still, that slight inconsistency was all that Cano needed, and he was in perfect rhythm with his pitcher – and father – Jose Cano. The younger Cano needed just 18 swings to win the Derby and set a final-round record with 12 home runs. Fittingly, he also beat Gonzalez for most overall home runs, 32-31.

American League Reigns Supreme

Of the NL hitters, only Fielder made it to the second round, hitting five first-round homers to tie Ortiz and St. Louis Cardinal Matt Holliday for third and force a swing-off for the final two spots in the second round. Holliday lost and was eliminated, and Fielder finished tied with defending-champion Ortiz with nine home runs after two rounds. Both were elimated when Cano’s and Gonzalez’s double-digit second rounds brought each’s total to 20. Fielder did hit the longest home run of the night, a 474-foot bomb to right field in the second round.

The AL outscored the NL 26-15 in the first round alone. Los Angeles Dodger Matt Kemp hit just two home runs to finish last, and Milwaukee Brewer Rickie Weeks – whose selection over hometown Arizona Diamondback Justin Upton led to both Weeks and Fielder getting booed during their at-bats – fared little better, hitting just three.

Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista, who leads the majors with 31 home runs, hit four home runs in his first Home Run Derby appearance, finishing sixth.

State Farm Insurance donated $603,000 to charities as a result of the Derby, and they and Major League Baseball combined to donate $18,000 per home run hit with the golden baseballs – made partly of actual gold – used with nine outs.

Red Sox: Five Thoughts on the First Half

This week’s All-Star Break marks the unofficial end of the first half of the baseball season, and the Red Sox are exactly where they want to be: first in the AL East, best record in the American League. Boston’s vaunted offense ranks first in the majors in batting average, runs, on-base and slugging. Boston’s pitching is holding opposing teams to a .239 average, fifth-lowest. And the defense ranks ranks second in the AL in errors and third in fielding percentage.

This Red Sox squad finds way to win without ever being 100 percent healthy. The thought of a healthy squad strikes terror in opposing pitchers and teams.

Here are five other thoughts from the first 90 games:

Adrian Gonzalez has far and away been the heart of the Red Sox's offense this season. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

1) Adrian Gonzalez has come as advertised. Say what you will about Theo Epstein’s inability to gauge major-league talent, but he hit the nail on the head with Gonzalez, tied for tops in the majors with a .354 average. He leads the league with 128 hits, 29 doubles and 77 RBIs. He also ranks first in total bases (213) and extra-base hits (48). His .591 slugging and 1.006 OPS rank him second in the AL. Gonzalez has perfect mechanics and a gorgeous swing, and it’s worked out rather well for him. As Epstein thought, Fenway has been a godsend for Gonzalez, who is batting .382 with 21 extra-base hits at home. He also plays near-perfect defense.

2) Odd-numbered years continue to work for Josh Beckett. As has been the case for Josh Beckett’s entire career in Boston, Beckett has bounced back from a terrible 2010 with a fantastic 2011, to the tune of an 8-3 record, a 2.27 ERA, and a .187 opposing batting average. Just as important if not more so has been Beckett’s health. Four Red Sox starters have gone on the DL this season, but Beckett hasn’t. He leads all active Red Sox pitchers with 17 starts – 12 quality starts – and 111.0 innings. Jon Lester’s challenge for Beckett’s job as staff ace has lit a competitive fire in Beckett, and the Red Sox have benefited from the competition. The Red Sox will need both Beckett and Lester (and Clay Buchholz) to win in the playoffs, but Beckett has single-handedly made sure that no Red Sox losing streak lasts too long.

3) Red Sox need a right-handed outfielder. All three of Boston’s starting outfielders – Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew – are lefties, as is backup/recent starter Josh Reddick. Ellsbury hasn’t had a problem with lefty pitchers, getting on base at a .328 clip. Crawford (.207 OBP) and Drew (.209 BA), however, have. The Red Sox need a right-handed option in the outfield, and Darnell McDonald, with his .143 batting average, no power and almost 5-1 strikeout-walk ratio, isn’t it. So who might they go after? I’m liking Milwaukee’s Corey Hart, a right-fielder who can also play left and center. He’s a .270 hitter this season who’s good against lefties (.294 career average) and has some power (23 extra-base hits, including 10 homers). With Hart on the books for $4.8 million this season, the Red Sox wouldn’t have to pay much more than $2 million to rent him through October. The Brewers are looking to deal, and the Red Sox have the prospects to get him. If not Hart, Boston might try for San Francisco’s Cody Hart, a cheap corner outfielder who’s hitting .314 against lefties this season.

4) Bottom third of the lineup still looks vulnerable: The Red Sox are fine 1-6 in the lineup, but their 7-9 hitters? Not so much. Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek (doesn’t matter), and Marco Scutaro have batted a combined .245, with 54 extra-base hits between them. They have struck out a combined 155 times. The Red Sox lineup will get stronger after the return of Crawford and Jed Lowrie, provided they return to their pre-injury hot streaks, and so far Saltalamacchia has been the slightly better offensive catcher (.437 vs. 435 slugging). Lester’s injury should mean less games for Varitek, who needs to catch Beckett and Lester but no one else. The lineup has the potential to lengthen over the next few weeks, but until it does, Boston’s power hitters will need to continue to rake, because after Reddick the team’s scoring chances shrink considerably.

5) Bullpen finds a way to work, it just isn’t always pretty. Boston’s bullpen ranks eighth in the AL with a .239 opposing batting average, and ninth with a 3.64 ERA. They’ve thrown 259.1 innings, fourth-most in the AL. Of the 14 AL relievers with double-digit saves this season, Jonathan Papelbon ranks 10th with a 3.93 ERA. The bullpen isn’t exactly “dominant,” and yet it works. Boston’s relievers have blown only seven saves, tied for third-fewest in the AL, and have held opposing hitters to .372 slugging, fourth-lowest. Daniel Bard has been an absolute rock, now on a scoreless streak of 19.1 innings that stretches across 18 appearances since giving up a run on May 23 against the Indians (his last blown save and loss). Bard leads the AL with 21 holds, and his .164 BAA ranks fourth among relievers with 20+ innings. Add in Matt Albers‘ 2.55 ERA (on pace to be a career-best), .221 BAA and ability to pitch multiple innings, and you have a bullpen that pieces together wins despite injuries, poor signings (Bobby Jenks and to a lesser extent Dan Wheeler) and an at-times frustrating closer.

Always Have a Plan B

Look for my interview with Portland Sea Dog Tim Federowicz on Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard later this week on WEEI.com!

So after a 1.5-hour drive in a car without air conditioning, I pull into scenic Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, NH. Home of the Fisher Cats, whatever the hell they are. WEEI has sent me to interview Portland Sea Dog (AA affiliate of the Red Sox, which I guess makes as much sense as a Fisher Cat) Stolmy Pimentel, ostensibly as a follow-up from his appearance at the minor league World Futures game a year ago. The real goal is to find out why he is, in short, sucking.

I had gone back and forth with editor and WEEI baseball writer Alex Speier about what questions to ask him, his coaches, and catcher Tim Federowicz, who had caught Pimentel at several minor league levels. My list was set, and off I went.

I pull into the stadium, no problem. Get my press pass, no problem. Meet media coordinator Matt Leite, who tells me I have about an hour before the clubhouse closes to the press. Again, no problem. He takes me down to the field (nice, but small compared with Fenway, with large buildings behind it creating an enclosed effect), and we look for Pimentel. Problem. He isn’t at the stadium: illness or something. Oh crap! Now what do I do?

I called another editor (I have like eight), Rob Bradford, who suggests some backup story ideas. None of them sound all that interesting, but I decide that trying to make something out of nothing is still better than … well … nothing. I sync my iPhone with the wireless in the press box (I have decided I will never go on assignment without my laptop ever again), and start doing emergency research so I won’t sound like an idiot during what is now going to be a 10-minute interview at best.

At the last second, Rob calls me and suggests a story that I like: interview Federowicz on the development of Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard, whom he played with at UNC. I do some quick research on their college careers (i.e. I Wiki them), jot down a few questions and book it back down to the dugout.

Leite brings out Federowicz. We sit down for a five-minute interview in which I do my best to ad-lib questions and milk as much from Federowicz as possible. He alleviates my fear that he wouldn’t want to do an interview entirely about other, more successful players, and gives me both good quotes and honest analysis of what makes a good pitcher. I finish my interview, grab a drink of water from the press box, and head back to Brighton.

I’m slightly frustrated by the experience, especially in that this is the second minor-league excursion that, despite my best efforts, has not gone according to plan. I realize, however, that this is something I will probably have to deal with over and over again in my career. Every single person I will work with, from players to coaches to media people, will ultimately be on the side of the player. They need us far less than we need them.

If a player really doesn’t want to do an interview, a coach will not tell that player to do it anyway. If a player is sick, the coach may or may not remember the press is interested in him, and may or may not let the press know ahead of time about that player’s availability. And if it turns out a lack of communication made a reporter’s job a bit more of a hassle, that coach will probably not lose much sleep.

With that being the case, it’s important to game-plan an alternate story ahead of time, with the intention to write it later in the season if the initial plan works out. If it doesn’t, you haven’t just wasted a half-tank of gas.

I won’t write this story for a couple of days, so right now I have no idea if I got anything useful from Federowicz, or if this will be a “going through the motions” story, something every journalist writes from time to time. I wish Pimentel had been available for interviews, because I think that story had more meat to it. But in not being able to interview Pimentel, perhaps I learned a more valuable lesson about being a sports reporter: always have a Plan B.

Map: Where Will the Bruins Take the Stanley Cup?

Win the Stanley Cup, and you get 24 hours to take it wherever you want and do whatever you want with it. The Boston Bruins are taking it all over the world in the next two months. Check out this map to see who’ll take it where (locations courtesy of WEEI)!

View Bruins Stanley Cup Locations in a larger map

View Bruins Stanley Cup Locations in a larger map

Resisting the Urge to Fan the Flame War

An odd change has come over me regarding my writing in the last few days. In the past, a negative comment on one of my articles filled me with elation. Someone had actually read the article, it had affected them enough to elicit a response.

I also saw negative responses as a sort of journalistic antibody. Hearing a “you suck” here and there now will help me deal with the multitude of criticisms (mostly unfounded) I will have to endure when I hit the big time. Dan Shaughnessy has thousands of naysayers, and not one of them has ever changed the way he writes.

Now, I don’t want to be the next Dan Shaughnessy: It’s not in me to write something I don’t believe in (unless I’m trying to be funny). But even Jackie MacMullan has a few idiot Internet flamers putting her down. So at some point I’ll need to get used to people I don’t know saying I’m bad at a job they couldn’t possibly do as well as I.

In the last week, however, something seems to have changed. It started Saturday, when someone criticized me for posting a YouTube video of the Boston Militia practicing less than a week before a playoff game. I had several options at that point:

  • Ignore the comment;
  • Remove the comment and change the comment rules for my videos;
  • Respond that I had gotten express permission from the Militia GM to record practice; or
  • Say that, then tell the guy to “bite me.”

Guess which one I went with? And of course my stupid response resulted in me being called “an ass.” At that point, I deleted all three comments, changed the permission and called it a day. But you readers know me pretty well. Does it seem typical for me to get into a flame war with some random douchebag? Have I ever done that before?

Non-sports matters put me in a terrible mood Saturday night, so I’m willing to chalk that particular incident up to a moment of weakness. As vindication, I notice that the Militia complimented me on both my Patch article and my video.

One incident does not equal a trend, but then it almost happened again Wednesday morning. I recapped Tuesday’s Red Sox game for Sports of Boston, a game that ended when Darnell McDonald threw Blue Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion out at home. A commenter called me “very biased” because I didn’t call out the umpire on an admittedly close play at the plate. And again I felt this incredibly strong urge to defend myself, and not in the logical, balanced way I normally do. Again I just wanted to scream at the guy, in part because I don’t write for ESPN.com; I write for a Boston-based sports blog. So of course there will be some bias.

Jason Varitek blocks Edwin Encarnacion from scoring the tying run with two outs in the ninth on Tuesday. Not calling out the ump got me labeled as "very biased," and for some reason that almost made me go crazy. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Luckily, my editor (thanks KC!) responded for me, and kept a level head doing so. I don’t like to criticize refs because all it does is ether make people angry or cheapen a victory. Home-plate umpire Brian Knight might have missed the call at the plate. He also probably erred in calling shortstop John McDonald’s checked-swing strike two. A 1-1 count probably changes the way Jonathan Papelbon approaches McDonald, and maybe the game ends less controversially either way.

So that’s two times Knight’s mistakes helped the Red Sox. But Knight also called a ball for left fielder Corey Patterson to start the ninth that replay showed caught the inside corner. Patterson stays alive, singles, and Jose Bautista hits a two-run bomb to cut the lead to 3-2. Where I’m going with all of this is that umps make mistakes, but usually both teams benefit from them. The Blue Jays lost because Knight might have made a mistake, but they also came a lot closer than they might have had Knight not made another mistake. Plus, it’s not like calling out the ref will actually change anything.

Of course, there’s no way I could have written that clearly or logically when I first read the reader’s response. I damn near popped a blood vessel in my eye fighting back the urge to respond. Because you have to. Arguing with Internet idiots is like arguing with 3-year-olds, and Louis CK can explain the inherent problems with that far better than I.

In conclusion, I have no idea why I flew off at Idiot A and came pretty freaking close to exploding at Idiot B. I just hope this defensiveness goes away, cause it’s not helping.

McDonald Guns Down Encarnacion in Ninth to Secure Red Sox Win; Lester Exits with Back Strain After Four

Dustin Pedroia hits a home run off Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil in the third inning of Tuesday's game at Fenway Park. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

For eight innings of Tuesday’s game against Toronto, Red Sox pitchers held the Blue Jays completely in check. In the ninth, it was the defense’s turn.

Darnell McDonald threw out designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion at home, ending the Blue Jays’ ninth-inning comeback one run short and securing the 3-2 Red Sox victory.

McDonald Saves Shaky Papelbon

The one consistent complaint about Jonathan Papelbon this season has been his difficulty with leads of three runs or more. Staked to a 3-0 lead entering the ninth, his difficulties should have come as no surprise.

Papelbon gave up a two-strike single to left fielder Corey Patterson to lead off the inning, bringing Jose Bautista – the most dangerous power hitter in the American League – to the plate. Four pitches later, Bautisa blasted a fastball deep into the night that only came down after clanging off the light tower above the Green Monster. Bautista’s second hit of the night – and first ever off Papelbon – cut Boston’s lead to 3-2.

Papelbon used his slider to strike out first baseman Adam Lind, then gave up a single to Encarnacion. Outfielder Travis Snider hit the first pitch he saw deep to left, but McDonald positioned himself right in front of the Green Monster to catch it for the second out.

Catcher J.P. Arencibia drew a full-count walk to move Encarnacion into scoring position, leaving Toronto’s fate to shortstop John McDonald. Papelbon got McDonald down 0-2, but again could not put the hitter away, and McDonald singled to shallow left field. Darnell McDonald charged in, fielded the ball on one hop, then gunned it in to Jason Varitek, who used his left leg to block the plate before tagging Encarnacion out to win the game and get Papelbon his 18th (and not particularly deserved) save.

Lester Exits After Four No-Hit Innings; Bullpen Backs Him Up

After four innings, it looked like it might be another historic night for Jon Lester. He hadn’t allow a hit in the first four innings, striking out five and giving up just a walk. His fastball hit 95 with movement and command, and his cutter broke sharply to the right. He threw 35 of his 50 pitches for strikes, including nine first-pitch strikes out of 13 batters. The Blue Jays couldn’t even hit Lester out of the infield until the fourth inning.

Unfortunately, four innings was all Lester could give the Red Sox. Lester suffered a strained left latissimus dorsi, an upper-back muscle beneath the shoulder, and exited the game. One team source reported that typical recovery from such a strain is two to four weeks.

Lester’s four innings meant a no-decision for the starter, and Matt Albers came on in relief. Although he gave up a single to Bautista in the sixth that cost Boston a no-hitter, Albers still went two scoreless innings, giving up a hit and two walks. He struck out two and earned his third win of the season.

Franklin Morales and Daniel Bard, Boston’s seventh- and eighth-inning pitchers, continued the pitching dominance. Morales pitched a perfect seventh on 14 pitches. Bard gave up a hit (just Toronto’s second to that point) and struck out one in a scoreless eighth, repeatedly hitting 99 with his fastball.

Red Sox Score Just Enough Against Cecil

Boston’s offense never found a way to sustain itself against Jays starter Brett Cecil, despite his 6.15 career ERA against the Red Sox. They had to be content with brief flurries of offense, which Tuesday night turned out to be enough.

David Ortiz led off the second inning with a double to right field and moved to third on a McDonald ground out. Varitek then hit the first pitch he saw off the Green Monster to knock in Ortiz and give Boston a 1-0 lead.

J.D. Drew then bounced a grounder to second baseman Mike McCoy’s right, which McCoy got a glove on it but couldn’t stop, instead kicking it into the outfield and giving Varitek time to score from second. The play was initially ruled an error, then changed to an RBI single.

Drew and Ortiz were two of the three Red Sox to reach base more than once against Cecil, who went eight innings, giving up seven hits and two walks while striking out six in a losing effort. Both reached on a hit and a walk. Adrian Gonzalez reached on a single and a hit-by-pitch.

Clean-up hitter Dustin Pedroia hit a solo shot over the Green Monster in the third to give the Red Sox a 3-0 lead.

The Boston Militia of the Women’s Football Alliance Prepare for Second Round of Playoffs

(written, shot and edited for Somerville Patch)

The Boston Militia defeated the D.C. Divas, 37-24, on June 25 in the first round of the Women’s Football Alliance playoffs. Starting quarterback, tri-captain and WFA All-American Allison Cahill completed 10 of 15 passes for 156 yards, including a second-quarter 73-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver and All-American (and backup QB) Adrienne Smith.

Starting fullback Dorothy Donaldson – another All-American (the Militia have six on the first team and two on the second) – pitched in with a rushing touchdown, as did running back Whitney Zelee. On the defensive end, outside linebacker Jennifer Olivieri forced a first-quarter fumble in the Militia’s red zone to kill a scoring opportunity, and All-American cornerback Briannah Gallo blocked a second-quarter punt that set up a field goal and gave the Militia a 20-6 halftime lead.

The Militia will next take on the Chicago Force on Saturday. So who are these women? And why football?

For some of the Militia, playing in the WFA simply continues their lifelong passion for football. Olivieri, 38, was the first girl ever to play in hometown Hull Youth Football. Smith has loved football since early childhood.

“No one ever discouraged me,” Smith said. “So, I’m literally 3 years old, watching the NFL with my parents, and I had a teddy bear at the time. We were about the same size; he was a big teddy bear. His name was Ginger, and I used to practice tackling him in front of the TV while I’m watching. My dad got me a Nerf football when I was 7 and taught me how to throw and I was hooked ever since.”

Opportunities for girls to play competitive football can be scarce, especially after age 13, which is when Militia general manager Frank Ferrelli says boys begin to play more recklessly, augmenting the risk of injury inherent to the physical differences between boys and girls that age.

This means that many female football players are relatively new, coming from other sports. Donaldson and Smith both played softball in college. Cahill, Smith and Olivieri played basketball. Center Amanda Alpert competed in throwing events such as discuss and shot put. Second-team All-American inside linebacker Jessica Penta was a soccer goalie.

While playing these other sports may develop some skills that would translate to football, the transition can be difficult.

“Football is hard,” Donaldson says. “It’s just very awkward at first, being athletic but also wearing a lot of equipment. It takes some getting used to to kind of grow out of that awkward phase.”

Despite the at-times difficult transition, the WFA offers a competitive athletic opportunity that the players really respond to. Olivieri says she converts her natural aggressiveness into how she plays linebacker, which may explain why she’s second on the team in tackles and first in tackles for losses. For Penta, however, her aggression is a game-mentality that she flicks on and off. She leads the team in tackles and is second in TFLs.

Cahill says that although quarterback was not originally one of her top choices, she now enjoys the strategizing and preparation the position requires. When she watches the NFL, she admires and tries to replicate the athletes’ mental toughness and ability to overcome adversity.

Adds Cahill, “Of course, you can’t beat direct involvement on every single play.”

That direct involvement has led to a 130.1 passer rating, second best in the WFA. On the field, Cahill plays with command, but also perhaps with the weight of the team on her shoulders. When she occasionally fumbles or overthrows a pass at practice, she curses loudly on the field, as if any mistake is unacceptable.

The Militia formed four years ago when local automobile dealer Ernie Boch Jr. bought and merged the Bay State Warriors of the IWFL and the Mass Mutiny of the National Women’s Football Association. Players agree that since the merge the team has had to focus less on fundraising and logistics, and instead focus solely on football.

The team went undefeated in the Independent Women’s Football League in 8010, winning the championship before moving to the larger and more competitive WFA.

Their winning streak ended with their very first WFA game, a 35-20 road loss to the Divas on April 2. The team then won its next eight, including the playoff win.

Cahill says that loss strengthened the team’s focus and mental preparation for the rest of the season, an idea shared by many Militia players.

“It was a wake up call,” Cahill said. “I think ultimately they did us a favor.”

“When you join a championship team, even veterans, you may think that everything’s guaranteed,” Donaldson says. “I think the biggest lesson is nothing’s guaranteed. You have to go and prepare. You can’t walk in expecting to win; you have to perform. … There’s no team out there that’s just going to hand it over to you. They want what you want, and want what you already have.”

Ferrelli says the Militiat average about 800 for their home games, played at Dilboy Stadium.

“This stadium is awesome,” Olivieri says. “It’s really nice, and clean, and probably the best stadium in our league.”

For more info, see:

• Boston Militia website

• Chicago Force website

• WFA homepage