Thinking Out Loud: Red Sox following Celtics' lead with in-season turnaround

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Thinking out loud…while wondering why calling someone a “peach” is considered a compliment, and calling someone “bananas” is an insult? It’s fruit discrimination, is what it is.

Love me a good comeback story. Aren’t comebacks the best? Especially when they’re unexpected?

We’ve got two of them going on right now.

Defying the odds, surprising the experts, proving the doubters wrong. You can certainly make the case for New England’s strong pro sports tradition being built on comebacks, especially in the past 20 years – like from the Patriots (from nowhere in the ’01 season, or the ‘16 season against Atlanta in SBLI) and the Red Sox of ’04.

On May 8, the Red Sox of ’22 were 10-19 after being swept outta Fenway by the Chicago White Sox.

If it weren’t for the suddenly surging Celtics, the Sox’ turnaround would be the biggest buzz in town…culminating with a six-game win streak that has them almost back to the .500 mark.

Now? They don’t swing at everything.The pitchers are throwing strikes, mostly. The defense has tightened up. The bullpen still resembles Swiss cheese (Matt Barnes has never thrown a strike he likes) but right now this team looks like a contender, as we suspected they could be.

Trevor Story was hitting .194 with no home runs on May 8. Since that time, he’s bashed all nine of his home runs and driven in 27 of his 37 RBIs, while batting over .300. Seven HRs in his last seven games, 21 RBIs, and 32 RBIs for May (tied for seventh-most all time).

However, the only three players in the lineup hitting over .300 for the year are (all) quite likely in their final seasons in Boston – J.D.
Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.

Sorry for the buzzkill.

Alex Cora this week, on J.D. Martinez: “I’ve never seen him like this. This is the best I’ve ever seen him.” Martinez leads the majors in hitting, as of Thursday. He’s had an 18-game hit streak and has hit safely in 24 of 26.

The analytics say one of every five plate appearances ends with a ball hit hard, right on the “sweet spot” (22%) – the highest mark in the majors. It means hard line drives are base hits, hard fly balls are extra bases or home runs.

This isn’t good enough for the Sox Stat Nerds?

Rafael Devers was tied for the AL lead in hits at midweek. Um, Alex? Care to let your bosses know these guys might be worth keeping, or is there some schlub in Tampa we don’t know about already headed this way?

Five months ago, the Celtics were under .500 and in 11th place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Either Ime Udoka is a miracle worker, or we’re all dreaming, infected with Green Team Fever.

Wherever Brad Stevens may have lost ‘em, Ime has found ‘em again. But Stevens did build ‘em, with a little help from old friend Danny Ainge.

Saw a GREAT tweet from @RealAlexBarth this week, that showed at least one Boston pro team reaching their league Final Four every season but TWO since 2001.

ICYWW, it was 2005 and 2009 when New Englanders were last also-rans. You may now return to your regularly scheduled bragging rights.

Jayson Tatum was named All-NBA First Team, which means he is, ostensibly, a top-five player in the league. #SMH on this one, but some days he plays like it, others he doesn’t.

Consistency is the key. His highs are high, but his lows happen too often. And yet, he stands a strong chance to be named winner of the first “Larry Bird Trophy,” given to the MVP of the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
Seems fitting for a Celtic to win that, amiright?

I’m not the biggest Robert Williams fan. He’s under-developed, undisciplined, and unhealthy. But the Celtics would not be where they are without him in the lineup.

Williams’ presence is largely responsible for the C’s defense cooling off the Heat to 98 points per game, when Miami averaged 110 points per game during the regular season. He’s been the real MVP for his team.

Oh, and before you begin to envision Banner 18, consider the Golden State Warriors haven’t lost a playoff series to a western opponent since 2013-14. Six West titles in eight years. They’re back in the finals, and they still have Steph Curry.

Tweet of the Week, from @BostonSportsInf: “Most Playoff wins last 15 years in each league: NFL 1. Patriots – 18, NBA 1. Celtics – 104, MLB 1. Dodgers – 60, 2. Red Sox – 46, NHL 1. Penguins – 102, 2. Bruins – 93. Seems like a pretty good place to live to me.”

Did you see where ESPN reported the 40 principal NBA owners have a combined $10 billion in China-related business investments? Money well spent, or money spent contributing to the undermining of America’s interests and security? Just sayin’.

Not for nuthin,’ but it’s kinda nice to see other arenas with leaky roof problems…as witnessed during Game 4 of the Mavs-Warriors series, won by Dallas. It ain’t just the Dunk.

Ed Cooley was congratulatory, as he should be, for Jared Bynum and AJ Reeves’ graduation from Providence last weekend.  He was also quick to point out that for four-year players in his program, the graduation rate is 100%.

Does that mean anything to players in these days of NIL, the transfer portal and turning pro?

Better buckle up in the Big East. South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will play for Creighton next season. The Blue Jays should be a top-five team in the national polls and the clear conference front-runner for 2022-23.

The long, strange trip gets even stranger for Qudus Wahab, a one-time Georgetown center…who is now BACK with the Hoyas. Wahab leaves Maryland, where he transferred to play a season ago…and he has now returned to DC and will apply for a transfer hardship in order to become eligible next season. Nothing personal, I guess.

The Hoyas have also landed another transfer, scoring guard Bryson Mozone from USC Upstate. That leaves the latest Gtown tally at six transfers out, six transfers in next season for Patrick Ewing.

Sports, popular culture and collegiate reality clashed this week at Xavier, as rapper Master P’s kid Hercy Miller left the program without having played a game and re-entered the transfer portal.

Miller transferred in from Tennessee State in December as a walk on – and with an NIL valuation of $111K…which ranks 17th nationally among all college basketball players.

Longtime St. John’s coach and athletic director Jack Kaiser passed away this week at age 95. Kaiser led SJU to the College World Series as a player in 1949, played three years in the Red Sox organization, led the Red Storm baseball program to 11 NCAA Tournaments as a coach and served as AD for 22 years – assisting Dave Gavitt in founding the Big East Conference.

Taking another stab at a way-too-early Big East projection, as the rosters begin to settle:  1) Creighton 2) Villanova 3) Xavier 4) Providence 5) UConn 6) St. John’s 7) Marquette 8) Butler 9) Seton Hall 10) Georgetown 11) DePaul.

Subject to change, of course. But eight – and perhaps NINE teams could be NCAA-worthy at the jump.

In addition to nabbing Seton Hall transfer Brandon Weston before the open transfer period closed, URI pulled in a big this week in 6-11 juco transfer Josaphat Bilau, who started his career at Wichita State. The Rams have two open schollies still available.

URI’s baseball Rams ended their season in the A-10 tournament with a loss to Richmond, but Rhody’s Addison Kopack was selected to the A-10 first team after leading the league with a .430 batting average. The Cumberland, RI native hit 17 dingers (2nd most in URI history) and also drove in 60 runs – tying the URI single season record.

Bryant senior Matt Woods was named the NEC Player of the Year after leading the league in hitting with a .389 average. The senior outfielder from Warwick, RI (and Pilgrim HS) is the sixth Bulldog player to be so named, with the program now heading for America East.

As the two-seed in the NEC Tournament this week, the Bulldogs faced #1 LIU Friday for a spot in the championship round.

My buddy “Big E” sez he burned 2000 calories yesterday. He left his brownies in the oven while taking a nap.

Kudos to ex-CBS and Boston College alum Lesley Visser for her Emmy Sports Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s the first woman to receive the honor.

Best wishes to WCVB Channel 5’s Mike Lynch, who suffered a stroke last week while out on a walk with his wife. Lynchie retired from his fulltime gig at Channel 5 nearly three years ago but remains a contributor to the stations’ efforts. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Pats OTAs this week: YAWN.

Mac Jones looks lean (but is he mean?) and looks like he lost his pudgy belly. Jack Jones could be a sleeper-keeper at CB. And BB, we think, was calling the offense in practice. Inquiring minds need to know.

Ran a Twitter poll this week on the Patriots’ current position-coach plight. 55% of respondents said it was “no big deal” that the team currently doesn’t have coordinators named. 45% disagree. Most of the Boston and Providence football media find themselves in the minority on this one.

Getcha popcorn ready for this storyline. It will have legs, only because said media will continue shoving it down your throats.

Is the NFL ready to tackle streaming? NFL+ is rumored to be on the table, with offerings of live games, archived highlights, team podcasts and more. And it certainly won’t be free, probably $5 or more per month, and won’t include out-of-market games…like you get with Sunday Ticket.

Hey, that NFL Pro Bowl game you watched (c’mon admit it, you watched) last February may have been the last one any of us will ever watch.
The league is discussing improvements to Pro Bowl Week, which includes the actual cancelling of the game.

Which would be the best improvement the NFL could make on that front. The Pro Bowl has long a joke, no player or coach takes the ‘competition’ seriously, and the only reason for ever playing it in the first place was simply to give players and fans a chance to go to Hawaii.

Said it before and saying it again – the only big-league all-star game worth playing/watching today is the MLB all-star game. Which was actually better with the World Series home team advantage on the line for the winning league.

Aww shucks. No more Pepsi-sponsored Super Bowl halftimes? Pepsi is still a major sponsor of the NFL but will no longer be the presenting sponsor for the extravagant, can-you-top-this halftime shows.

ICYWW, Dr. Dre and Snoop’s big show this year topped out at 103 million viewers – which ranked highly, but it wasn’t the all-time record. That audience belongs (so far) to Katy Perry in 2015, with more than 120 million pairs of eyeballs set on her, um, self.

If you have $40 to $50 million laying around, you could sponsor the Super Bowl halftime show. You could.

ICYMI, the NFL settled its’ legal dispute with St. Louis over the team moving to Los Angeles in 2016…for $790 million. $232 million of that is coming from the other 31 NFL teams…meaning that the Patriots are forking over $7.5 million to cover for Stan Kroenke’s greed.

The Fenway Bowl is back – scheduled for Dec. 17 at Fenway Park between teams from the ACC and the American Athletic Conference. Boston-based Wasabi Technologies is the presenting sponsor.
Waaaasssssaaaaaaaaaabiiiiiii!

Announcer comings and goings: Al Michaels may be calling the Amazon Prime Thursday games next season, but he’s not leaving NBC. The network this week has signed him to an emeritus role, and he’ll continue to call NFL playoffs and the Olympics.

At the other end is Thom Brennaman, the former Cincinnati Reds and Fox play-by-player who was fired from his gigs for using an anti-gay slur when he thought his microphone was off. After nearly two years in exile, he can’t (yet) get another whiff of the big leagues.

Did you hear the story of the top-seeded Florida Panthers going to a Tampa strip club the night before Game 4 with the Lightning? Must’ve had a good time, they were swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the first President’s Trophy winners to go “oh-fer’ and out of the first round in three years.

That’s something to celebrate, I guess.

Why did Qatar allegedly bribe its way in and want so badly to become the first Arab country to host soccer’s top tournament? Five billion viewers are expected to watch the World Cup when it kicks off in November, which is four months later than usual because of the extreme weather and average temperatures (104 degrees) during the summer.

Gillette Stadium in Foxboro remains a prime candidate to host Cup games in 2026.

Qatar is also expecting 1.2 million visitors, which is great except the country only has 90K hotel rooms. Instead, they’re providing 180 daily flights into Qatar from nearby Middle Eastern cities.

Estimated cost to the country, all told: $220 billion. Estimated economic impact: $20 billion.

And an even bigger issue for this year: homosexuality. It’s illegal in Qatar. Some players have voiced concerns about LGBT+ men and women, and their families, traveling to watch the tournament.

Tournament organizers have clarified everyone is welcome to the country, but they’ve also warned about public displays of affection. This should help point at least SOME of that attention away from the pitch, no doubt.

Clearly, FIFA’s willingness to hold a global event that won’t focus entirely on the game itself is of little concern…with the amount of $$$ spent to gain the event, the importing of ‘slave’ laborers by Qatar to build their facilities, many of whom died on the job – and the attention rolling in as a by-product of 5 billion sets of eyeballs on their gleaming palaces.

Don’t recall as big a “to do” in quite a while over Saturday Night Live departures as the ones announced last week – Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney and Pete Davidson are leaving the show. Davidson will undoubtedly take a lot of click-bait along with him, as long as Kim Kardashian stays in his picture.

And Kanye West keeps threatening him. Oh, ‘scuse me. If “Ye” keeps threatening him.

Kenan Thompson has been a part of the cast for 19 years? Whatever happened to Kel?

Funniest performer for my money has long been Cecily Strong, outside of McKinnon’s versatility. But no, nothing compares to the original Belushi-Aykroyd cast, or the Hartman-Carvey era 10 years later.

Not for nuthin’, but SNL turns 48 years old when it kicks off again in the fall. 17 years before mandatory retirement. This week’s “wow” and “whoa” all at once.

Time passages: Roger Angell defined the term “veteran” sportswriter.
A true heavyweight in the literary world, Angell passed away last weekend at 101 years of age, following a storied career with The New Yorker as an essayist and author, and noted lover of baseball.

Actor Ray Liotta died this week at age 67 while on the set of the movie “Dangerous Waters” shooting in the Dominican Republic. Who can forget his roles as Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner or mob rat Henry Hill in “Goodfellas” with Joe Pesci? Both memorable movie characters if there ever were any.

Alan White, the longtime drummer for the legendary rock band “Yes,” also passed this week at the age of 72 after a brief illness. White’s 50-year career made him the longest continuously serving band member…and his claim to fame includes working with and performing for ex-Beatle John Lennon.  “Yes” has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.

“I can feel no sense of measure, no illusions as we take refuge in young man’s pleasure, breaking down the dreams we make real.” Leave it.

Among the life lived this week were 21 of them snuffed out in a few horrifying minutes, in a school within the community of Uvalde, located about an hour and a half west of San Antonio, TX near where I spent a good part of my life and career before living and working in the northeast.

Uvalde. Sandy Hook. Columbine. Is your school or community doomed to remembrance by a single, murderous incident? No matter your politics, one thing is becoming increasingly, terrifyingly clear for us all.

We need to Stop. This. Insanity.

Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments, and local stories to jrbroadcaster@gmail.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here!  Would appreciate the follow on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and join in on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

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