Red Sox continue historic collapse

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Red Sox continue historic collapse

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, September 22, 2011
BOSTON (AP) -- Boos poured down on the struggling Red Sox as they left the field after their latest loss. In the clubhouse, it was quiet as they packed for their final road trip -- and perhaps their last games -- of the year. The Red Sox road to the playoffs hit more rough spots when they blew another late lead, falling to the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 on Wednesday night, their 14th loss in 18 games. Boston's lead in the AL wild-card race increased by a half game to 2 when the Tampa Bay Rays lost a doubleheader to the New York Yankees. But the Red Sox seemed stunned by their collapse, with blank looks on their faces and little expression in their voices. "We certainly haven't made it very easy for ourselves," manager Terry Francona said. "That doesn't mean we can't get where we want to go, but we have our work cut out for us." Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-run single in the eighth inning that broke a 4-all tie. Then the Red Sox went meekly in the last two innings, failing to get a hit and ending on Jed Lowrie's soft grounder to pitcher Jim Johnson. The Red Sox led Tampa Bay by nine games on Sept. 3. Now they also must hold off the Los Angeles Angels, who also are 2 games out in the AL wild-card race after beating Toronto 7-2 on Wednesday. The Red Sox have six games left -- three at Yankee Stadium and three at Baltimore. Tampa Bay has seven remaining -- four against the Yankees and three against Toronto. Can the Red Sox, who straightened out their season after losing their first six games and 10 of their first 12, do it again? "I think I can answer that better next Wednesday" after the regular-season finale, Francona said. "I'm not in a very good mood right now. We just lost a game, you know. We've lost a lot of games. We're going to have to fight for everything we get the rest of the way." Ace Josh Beckett started for Boston, hoping to put more distance between Boston and the Rays. Beckett (13-6) allowed just one hit through five innings as the Red Sox built a 4-1 lead. But he gave up a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh on Mark Reynolds' second homer that tied the game. "I kept thinking when we kept it at 4-2, I thought we could get a big hit and we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. In the eighth, Beckett gave up a single to J.J. Hardy and a double to Nick Markakis. Alfredo Aceves relieved with runners at second and third, then gave up Guerrero's hard, two-run single to center field. "You want to pitch good all year long, but especially whenever your team needs you," Beckett said. "You need to give them innings and quality innings and that was something I wasn't able to do." One night before Boston's best starter faltered, star closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a save chance for only the second time this season when he gave up a three-run double to Robert Andino in the eighth that gave Baltimore a 7-5 win. Clay Rapada (2-0) got the win on Wednesday and Johnson earned his ninth save in 14 chances -- his third in as many days against Boston. "It's pretty tough," Beckett said. "I wish I could have done better today. Things didn't work out. I got away with some pitches early and I didn't get away with them later on." Carl Crawford, who has struggled most of the season after signing a seven-year, 142 million contract, had a single, double and triple for Boston and drove in two runs. "That'll be welcome if he wants to get real hot like he can," Francona said. "That'll really help us." Reynolds hit a solo homer in the second before Boston tied the game in the third on a triple by Crawford and an RBI groundout by Jason Varitek. Crawford gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead in the fourth with a two-run double after a single by Adrian Gonzalez and a double by Dustin Pedroia. Consecutive singles by Mike Aviles, Gonzalez and David Ortiz made it 4-1 in the fifth against Tommy Hunter, who left the game with two outs in the seventh with a strained right groin. "It got pretty tight," Hunter said. "It's one of those things that's been lingering all year. I'm glad I didn't throw another pitch." The Orioles added a run in the sixth when Andino singled, stole second and scored on a single by Hardy. They tied it in the seventh when Matt Wieters singled and was forced out at second on a grounder by Adam Jones before Reynolds hit his 36th homer of the season -- his second of the game over the Green Monster in left field. "It's pretty tough," Beckett said. "I wish I could have done better today. Things didn't work out." NOTES: Reynolds tied a career-high with two homers in a game. It was the fifth time he did it this season and the 12th time in his career. ... After a day off on Thursday, the Red Sox begin a season-ending six-game road trip with Jon Lester (15-8) facing the New York Yankees in the opener of a three-game series on Friday night. Boston finishes the season with a three-game series in Baltimore starting Monday. ... With two hits, Gonzalez passed Mo Vaughn for the most hits in a season by a Red Sox first baseman. Gonzalez has 208, one more than Vaughn had in 1996. ... Jacoby Ellsbury got a hit for his 33rd consecutive game against Baltimore. It's the longest hitting streak against the Orioles franchise and the longest by a Red Sox player against any team.

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

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USA TODAY

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

A game which paired two of the top teams in the MLS standings didn’t deliver in a traditional sense, but did produce a wild game on Saturday.

The Chicago Fire looked like a team coming off a break in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at New York City FC. The Fire played up a man from the 12th minute on, but defensive lapses throughout and a lack of crispness in front of goal cost the Fire.

After a first half in which the Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) were outshot 7-4 despite the man advantage, NYCFC (11-6-4, 37 points) scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half and held off the Fire’s late surge.

For much of the match, the Fire struggled to complete passes and couldn’t even put shorthanded New York City under pressure. Once the Fire fell behind 2-0, David Accam, who entered the match as a halftime sub, got the Fire within one with a long-range effort that slammed in off the bottom off the crossbar.

The final 30 or so minutes resembled the Fire’s previous struggles this season of playing against teams defending deeply. The Fire couldn’t score against Orlando when the Lions were down two players on June 4. Later in June in the U.S. Open Cup, the Fire couldn’t score against USL opponent FC Cincinnati which defended deep the entire match.

NYCFC took the lead two minutes into the second half on a David Villa volley where Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson was screened on the shot. A few minutes later Frederic Brillant rebounded his own header on a set piece to double the lead.

Accam’s goal finished off a stretch of three goals in eight minutes, but the Fire couldn’t beat former goalkeeper Sean Johnson again despite 25 shots.

The loss snapped the Fire’s 11-match MLS unbeaten run and tightened up the Eastern Conference race. Toronto FC, which tied NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, is up a point on the Fire. NYCFC is now a point behind the Fire with an extra game played.

Before the red card, the Fire caught a big break when a Bastian Schweinsteiger turnover nearly led to a penalty kick. Johan Kappelhof slid to knock the ball away from Herrera in the fourth minute, and appeared to miss the ball, but the ref did not give the penalty to the hosts.

Fire defender Brandon Vincent was announced as a starter before the match, but the club said he suffered a left quad strain in warmups and was replaced by Michael Harrington in the lineup.