May 2008

Celtics and Lakers — What more could you ask for?

Today is like Christmas for any Celtics follower who grew up in the Bird era, not to mention the Russell Era, or the Havlicek-Cowens era. Everyone has been waiting a long time for this.

Not just to play the Lakers in the finals, but anyone in the Finals. Let’s see, I was in ninth grade the last time they made it this far. Since then, I’ve graduated high school, graduated college, gotten married, have had three kids and two jobs, and who knows how many cars.

This is going to be something special. Covering the Red Sox is my job and I enjoy it thoroughly. Watching the Celtics is a hobby — one that anyone who knows me with any depth knows that I am extremely passionate about. Following this team has been an addiction since I used to listen to Johnny Most under my pillow at night. I never jumped off the bandwagon either because I never knew there was a bandwagon. That’s not how it works for me.

One of my friends in the press box told me to take the smile off my face in the last couple of minutes of the Celtics game last night. Sorry, but it was hard to.

After going through Len Bias and Reggie Lewis and Bill Walton’s bad feet and Kevin McHale’s bad ankle and Larry Bird’s bad back and the train wreck that was the Rick Pitino era — I’ve blacked the M.L. Carr years out of my memory bank — and the short-lived hope under Jim O’Brien, this is surreal to know that the Celtics are playing the Lakers in the Finals.

Paul Pierce has proven to be the ultimate winner. He, more than any other Celtic — including Garnett — has put this team on his back this spring. That’s been enjoyable to watch.

This will be the best challenge yet. But just having homecourt gives them a very real chance at Number 17.

I’m not sure there can be better basketball than these two teams played in the ’84, ’85 and ’87 Finals, but it will be fun trying to see if they can.

In the next few days, you will be forced to think about who can stop Kobe, and if the Celtics can overcome Rondo’s inexperience. And as much as I defend Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson is the most successful NBA Finals coach this side of Red Auerbach. How about Gasol?

Do me a favor. Save those issues and just savor the moment for now.

Buckle up, guys and gals. This is going to be a ride to remember.

Birdland

Here in the land of the Baltimore Birds with news that Daisuke Matsuzaka is going on the DL with a mild rotator cuff strain. It’s really not a surprise at all. The Sox are very conservative when it comes to pitchers and are actually of the belief that all of them can benefit from about two weeks off during the season.

Jeff Bailey is here from Pawtucket, and will come off the bench until Tuesday, when Justin Masterson will be activated to take Dice-K’s spot in the rotation.

Oh, it’s Manny Ramirez’s 36th birthday. What better way to celebrate it than with home run No. 500? He can even hug his pal Millar as he rounds first. Per usual, Manny was in a great mood before the game today. “Don’t worry about it” is his new catch phrase. He won’t stop saying it. When Jim Palmer walked through the clubhouse, Manny shouted to him, “I’ll see you in Cooperstown.”

In more mundane news, J.D. Drew has the night off because of Vertigo. He’s getting the head spins. By the way, Vertigo is one of my favorite U2 songs ever. Just thought I’d share that.

Celtics predictions tonight? I don’t feel strongly about this one either way. Let me know what all of you think.

Dice-K to get MRI

The Red Sox seem optimistic about Dice-K. He’s getting an MRI on Friday in Boston just as a precaution. Still no word on whether he makes his next start.

Ian.

Scratch that

It seemed like the Red Sox were running their regular lineup out there tonight when word broke of a late switch. Kevin Youkilis has been experiencing some discomfort in the top of his right (throwing) hand and has been scratched from the lineup.

Casey will start at first base.

Just wanted to share that with you for now.

More later from what is easily one of the top five Stadiums in the Major Leagues.

Ian.

Lester can't channel Vander Meer

Jon Lester, will not share history with Johnny Vander Meer. It was 50 years ago — June 15, 1938 — when Vander Meer becme the only pitcher of all-time to hurl back-to-back no-hitters.

Today, Lester had his chance, and it lasted all of one batter. Jack Hannahan led off the first for the A’s with a hard single to left. What an utterly amazing feat for Vander Meer by the way. How is that even possible to do what he did?

Also, Lester revealed in an ESPN Sunday Night Conversation with Erin Andrews that his father now has lymphoma. That’s too bad, but it sounds like there is a very optimistic prognosis for John Lester.

Manny is back in the lineup and I think I’ll call a home run just like I called a Celtics win last night.

Can anyone else start to taste Celtics-Lakers? Yes, I know the Detroit series is far from over, but that would be unbelievable to see Boston and LA do battle again for all the marbles.

Buchholz will pitch in Pawtucket tonight. By the way, Terry Francona said that the team has given no thought to having him work out of the bullpen right now. Perhaps it’s something you could see later in the year, but not right now. They will speak with Buchholz after his game in Pawtucket and plot his next course of action, which could be very similar to Brandon Moss’s next course of action if you know what I mean.

Standard lineup today with Ellsbury leading off and playing center.

Later.

Ian.

Saturday from Oakland

Here we are, back at the fabulous McAfee Coliseum for Game 2 of Red Sox-A’s.

There was immediate news via a glance at the lineup card as Manny Ramirez has been given the day off to rest his slumping bat. However, hitting coach Dave Magadan is confidence that Ramirez has found some things and is close to busting out. More on that later.

Brandon Moss was activated from the 15-day disabled list as he is fully recovered from his emergency appendectomy. However, upon activation, Brandon was immediately optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Speaking of Pawtucket, Julian Tavarez will not be going there as he indicated earlier this week. Instead, Julian has asked the club for his free agency and it was granted.

Here is tonight’s lineup:

Ellsbury LF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Youkilis 1B
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Crisp CF
Cora SS

Beckett SP

Ian.

Anybody have a prediction on Celtics score tonight? Let me be the first.

Boston 95, Detroit 91.

Road blues

Are the Red Sox turning into the Celtics in front of our very eyes?

Did you notice that the boys are all of a sudden having a tough time of it on the road?

The Sox are 21-5 at Fenway, which is utter dominance. On the road? Try 10-14, which is looking like 10-15 the way thins are going thus far tonight.

What is it that is making life so tough for them on the road? Anybody have any theories?

And does anyone have any predictions for Celtics-Pistons Game 3?

Big Bartolo ready to take ball

We are roughly 15 minutes away from Bartolo Colon’s first offiicial pitch as a member of the Red Sox, and the anticipation is building. Well, not really, but it sounds good to say it.

But seriously, it will be very intriguing to see exactly how Bart fits into the mix here. Obviously his upside is huge. Downside? There really is none. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll have Buchholz or Masterson or eventually maybe even Schilling.

Julian Tavarez is in Pawtucket, but I highly doubt you will see him in a Red Sox uniform again this season. It sounds like they are just trying to bide time before a trade. As Francona said, “Tavarez is going to pitch in the big leagues.”

Francona laughed when a reporter mentioned to him before the game that Manny Ramirez remains “stuck” on 498 homers. I can think of worse numbers to get stuck on. He could be stuck on 14. When Francona said that, I thought for sure that must have been the number of times he went deep in his career. But upon further review, Tito hit 16 jacks.

For the second night in a row, bench coach Brad Mills will coach third. DeMarlo Hale is home in Florida tending to his wife, who is undergoing some medical tests.

I asked Tito before the game about the prospects of Masterson pitching out of the bullpen: “Yeah, he could probably certainly help us just because of his style. He’s two years into pro ball. I think the starters innings are really, really beneficial. Where that takes him the rest of the year, i don’t know. A lot of things get talked about within the organization and I think your question makes sense. But I think starters innings right now are really beneficial to him.”

Another No-No

Sorry about the lack of blogging yesterday. As you might imagine, I got a little busy during the no-hitter.

Full Disclosure: It didn’t dawn on me that Lester had a no-hitter until about the fifth inning when I heard esteemed colleague Steven Krasner of the Providence Journal say something about a no-hitter on a telephone conversation within ear shot.

What can I say? It just didn’t feel like a no-hitter in the early innings. It was all so routine. Aside from the Ellsbury catch, none of the outs were difficult.

I felt better about spacing the no-hitter for five innings when I heard Jason Varitek say after the game that he had no clue about the no-no until after seven innings. And he was catching! Speaking of ‘Tek, that’s pretty telling that he’s the only catcher in history to be on the receiving end of four no-nos.

Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Lester’s performance was his mid to upper 90s velocity. Where had that been?

Don’t discount that Lester could still be getting back to full strength after the cancer.

Lester was asked this afternoon when the last time was that he had that kind of life on his fastball:

“A long time,” he said. “I’d say all the way back to ’05. It’s been a while to where I could sit there and go, ‘I’m going to try to rear back and throw this one a little bit harder’ and ctually get it. Last year, it was ‘try to throw a little bit harder’ and it was 91, 92. This year, it’s physically stronger and I don’t still have the stuff [chemo, etc.} in me and all that. I just feel a lot better mechanically, too, being able to repeat my mechanics better.”

Think about how dangerous this could make the Red Sox if Lester has a carryover from this no-hitter and becomes that upper echelon type of starter a lot of us forecasted him to be in Spring Training.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals is coming up. The NBA has the matchups they want this round. Celtics and the Pistons, a pure throwback ’80s matchup. And the Lakers and the defending champion Spurs.

Lucky 7?

Moments from the start of Game 7 of Celtics-Cavs, and it’s a highly anticipated game. If you grew up watching the Celtics, you think back to all the Game 7′s you watched as a kid.

Game 7 against the Knicks in ’84 when Bird had a triple double, including 39 points. Game 7 against the Lakers that same year when Maxwell said, “Jump on my back boys, I’m going to carry you tonight.” And he did.

Game 7 of the second round against the Bucks in 1987 when the Celtics were down by eight points in the fourth quarter and Jerry Sichting subbed for an injured Danny Ainge and hit two clutch jump shots. But the game was won when Dennis Johnson made one of the most spectacular defensive plays I’ve ever seen, chasing down a blocked shot of Parish on Jack Sikma and jumping out of bounds and slapping the ball off Sikma to make it Boston ball.

Then, of course, Game 7 that same year against the Pistons. Bird, isolated against Rick Mahorn, has his shot blocked, and the ball goes out of bounds with five seconds left. And Bird steals on just a terrible pass from Isiah and gets it to DJ for the layup to win the game.

There would be the best Game 7 I’ve ever watched in 1988, the Bird-Dominique shootout. Man, this one still has to give any sports fan goose bumps. Bird had 20 in the fourth, including a ridiculous three from the corner with a hand in his face. Boston 118, Atlanta 116.

Now we’re back for another Game 7 that is sure to live on in the memory banks for a long time, win or lose. Who steps up? KG? Allen? Paul Pierce? LeBron?

The fun will be finding out.

Ian.

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