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Battening down the hatches

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  August 26, 2011 11:25 AM

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Nailing down thoughts on the local teams while taping the windows and bringing in the patio furniture ...

Weeks like this cannot help but make you wonder if the Red Sox could have sacrificed five prospects for Adrian Gonzalez and still felt he was a steal. Beginning with his last at-bat on Wednesday, Gonzalez homered on three consecutive pitches during the Red Sox’ impressive series win over the Texas Rangers. Not games or swings. Pitches. With 32 games to go, Gonzalez is now on pace to bat .348 with 29 home runs, 127 RBI, 111 runs scored and 226 hits.

Here’s the best part: only once this season has Gonzalez gone more than two games without a hit, that coming in a recent three-day stretch (August 16-18) during which the Sox played four games thanks to a doubleheader. The word consistent does not begin to describe him. As the last two days have proven, Gonzalez’s definition of a “slump” is a period during which he does not homer. In the 39 games from July 8-August 22, Gonzalez hit one home run. He batted .323 with a .397 on-base percentage and an .803 OPS.

At the moment, Gonzalez is the only player in the majors to rank in the top five in both batting average and OPS.

What a beast.

* * *

We all have seen the same things with regard to the Patriots, their depth and their philosophical change on defense thus far, though the picture will certainly come into sharper focus following the cliché that is the third preseason game tomorrow night in Detroit. Nonetheless, we all know that the Patriots now have something to prove in the postseason, where they have lost three straight, including the last two at home, and gone winless since the start of the 2009 season.

That said, take the time now to review the Patriots schedule again. It’s a beast. The only indisputable doormats may be Buffalo (Weeks 3 and 17) and possibly Washington (Week 14) and/or Denver (Week 15). You might add the Raiders (Week 4, 8-8 last year) to that list, too, though, like the Miami Dolphins, they probably fall more into the class of mediocrity.

The rest of the field? San Diego, the Jets (twice), Dallas, Pittsburgh, the Giants, Chiefs, Eagles and Colts. All of those teams were in either in the playoffs last year or underachieved based on their talent level, which makes any and all talk of another undefeated season (and we’ve all been hearing some) pure poppycock.

Still, barring any major injuries, what’s worst case for this team? 12-4? And if the Patriots play the kind of aggressive defense we think they are preparing to play, they will be wildly entertaining to watch.

* * *

Anyone else catch that Matt Cooke story in the Pittsburgh papers? What a ruse. Sadly, Cooke’s wife was ill last year, but there was at least some connection drawn between his off-ice concerns and his continued on-ice recklessness. Of course, Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard took place roughly a year before his wife fell ill, which suggests that her health and his lack of respect for other players are hardly related.

While Cooke went out of his way to say that he was not making excuses for his head-hunting tactics, then why did he agree to the story at all? If he wasn’t making excuses, he wouldn’t have allowed his wife to be put out there at all. He’s the one in the public eye. She isn’t.


* * *

Lest we all fall victim to the philosophies that derailed George King and LaVelle Neal, Justin Verlander deserves serious consideration as Most Valuable Player of the American League. As of today, he may even be the leader in the clubhouse. The Verlander of 2011 might be every bit as valuable to the Tigers as the Pedro Martinez of 1999 was to the Red Sox, particularly when you consider that Verlander ranks 35th among the qualifying 46 American League pitchers in run support.

Despite that, Verlander is 19-5, which should serve as evidence that wins do mean something on a pitcher’s resume. (Compare this with Felix Hernandez last year.) In five of his last six victories, Verlander has left the game with a one-run lead, which speaks to an ability to pitch to the score. When he has failed to record a decision this year, the Tigers are two games under .500, which puts them in the same class as teams like the Pirates, Rockies, Dodgers, White Sox, Indians, Nationals, Mets and Blue Jays.

Instead, they’re contending with the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Braves for the World Series.

* * *

The Mike Flanagan story is so sad and tragic it goes well beyond words. The same is true anytime someone feels so desperate as to resort to suicide. This should serve as a reminder to all of us that professional athletes, executives and broadcasters are no different than anyone else, susceptible to the pressures, issues and flaws that dot every human life from the moment we all set foot on the planet.

Can we all stop with the notion that professional athletes somehow lead a dream existence? They don’t. Much of who they are has been determined before they go to the first grade.

What this all speaks to, really, is the frailty of the human composition, be the issues physical, psychological, chemical, professional or environmental. If you’re a baseball fan or follower, this story absolutely, positively had to resonate with you. I didn’t know Flanagan at all, but I know many people who did know him in the same way that I know others in the game. As a result, I have great compassion for him, his family, for others burdened with the same type of desperation he felt.

If only we could fix that.

Tony's Top 5

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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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