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From bullpen to BC, a masterful weekend in sports

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 12, 2010 10:27 AM

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Sights, sounds and observations during a weekend filled with channel surfing …

One week into the 2010 baseball season, the Red Sox are among a group of seven teams who have yet to see their starting pitchers suffer a loss. But then, the Sox are also among a group of five teams to have suffered a major league-leading three defeats in their bullpen.

As any general manager or manager will tell you during this age of statistical analysis and evaluation, the bullpen is always an area of concern. Forecasting performance is a difficult thing to do. Entering this season, during Terry Francona’s tenure as manager, Red Sox relievers had lost fewer games (110) than those from any other team in baseball. Sox relievers simultaneously ranked second in winning percentage, behind only those from the New York Yankees.

So far in 2010, the bullpen performance has left a great deal to be desired. Combined, Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard have inherited four runners – and allowed all of them to score. On Friday night in Kansas City, with a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Bard inherited one runner, then placed a second by issuing a walk. Pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist then promptly stole second, a critical development when Bard subsequently allowed a broken-bat, two-run single to Rick Ankiel that turned a potential 3-2 win into a 4-3 defeat.

So far this season, along with the Yankees, the Sox have allowed a major league-leading nine steals. They have thrown out one attempted base stealer. Over the last two seasons, opponents are 11 of 12 in steal attempts against closer Jonathan Papelbon and 5 for 5 against Bard, a worrisome development for a team that, in 2010, is built on the concept of pitching and defense.

Already this season, the Sox have blown two games after the sixth inning. The bullpen also won a game by outpitching the Yankees on opening night, but the Sox could just as easily be 4-2 instead of 3-3.

And this year, games of the like could make all the difference in the world.

As for the inherited runners, Okajima and Bard were quite effective at stranding them last season, when Okajima (31 of 37 stranded, 83.8 percent) was among the best in baseball. Bard stranded 22 of 29. Nonetheless, for all the developments that took place during Week 1 – including the might struggles of David Ortiz – none bears greater watching than the performance of the Red Sox' setup men.

Meanwhile, to their credit, the Bruins forced their way into the playoffs and wrapped up the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. If you are Peter Chiarelli, you could not have diagrammed a more perfect way to end the season. The Bruins totaled nine points in their last five games to secure their best matchup (Buffalo) in the first round, all while the Toronto Maple Leafs locked up the second-worst record in the league. As a result of the latter, the B’s will have a 60.8 percent chance at either the first or second pick in the draft when the NHL draft lottery is conducted tomorrow night.

If the draft goes according to odds, as has been the case the last two years, Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin will be playing for the Bruins next year.

The NHL being the NHL, let us not dismiss the B’s chances to make some noise in the playoffs. With Game 1 starter Tuukka Rask in goal this season, the Bruins are 22-12-5. The Bruins played with grit and togetherness over the final three weeks of the season after the well-chronicled affairs of Matt Cooke, who got his comeuppance in the form of a right hand from Atlanta Thrashers center Evander (Real Deal) Kane on Saturday night.

What goes around comes around.

Even if you are among the lemmings who continue to root for Tiger Woods, developments in the final round of the Masters on Sunday were impossible to ignore. While the morally corrupt Woods was contending for his 15th major championship, his greatest rival, Phil Mickelson, actually won the tournament. After rolling in an emphatic birdie putt on the 18th green, Mickelson embraced his wife, Amy, who is battling breast cancer.

Meanwhile, Woods’s wife and the real victim in this mess, Elin Nordegren, was nowhere to be seen.

For Mickelson, the events of the weekend have to be gratifying. While we certainly do not know all the details of Mickelson’s life, he upstaged Woods on the course and off. It was a rather sound beating. Much has been made of the relationship between Woods and Mickelson – if there is really one at all – and one cannot help but wonder if the Mickelsons were slyly grinning on their way out of Augusta National last night.

Say what you want about Mickelsson, but he clearly is not afraid of Woods. Lest anyone forget, in September 2007, Mickelson and Woods were paired together in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston in Norton, and Mickelson won then, too.

Given the juxtaposition, of the two greatest golfers in the world, it is worth noting the contrast that has been struck by the men’s hockey and basketball programs at Boston College. Shortly after BC fired basketball coach Al Skinner following a disappointing season, the hockey team rolled to a second national championship in three years over the weekend by defeating Miami (Ohio) and Wisconsin by a combined score of 12-1.

For BC coach Jerry York, the title is his fourth during a career that has produced more NCAA wins that any coach but Ron Mason. Born in Watertown, York still lives in the same town. Most mornings, he still has coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts just beyond Watertown Square. College hockey will never receive the attention that college basketball does for obvious reasons, but isn’t it time that York get more attention for being one of the greatest college coaches, in any sport, of all time?

But then, he probably doesn’t want it.

Finally, with the end of the regular season now just two games away, one has to wonder what Doc Rivers thinks about during some of those drives home at night. Rivers is the same man and same coach since the Celtics won the title two years ago, but many of his players appear to have changed. Is Kevin Garnett as hungry? Is Paul Pierce? Meanwhile, Rasheed Wallace seems to have treated his three-year contract with the Celtics as if it were a golden parachute and Marquis Daniels has been a virtual non-factor this year.

Maybe the Celtics have a chance this postseason, maybe they don’t. The latter seems more likely. In many ways, the worst thing that could happen to the Celts is a walk-over in the first round, because that would only reinforce the notion that these Celtics can turn it on and off at will. Then again, if the Celtics are challenged right from the start, one has to wonder about their ability to make it through four long playoff series given their age and health problems.

No matter how you slice it, it just doesn’t seem to be their year.

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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