Patriots

And the Cy Young winners are...

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And the Cy Young winners are...

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- R.A. Dickey languished in the minors for 14 years, bouncing from one team to another before finally perfecting that perplexing knuckleball that made him a major league star.David Price was the top pick in the draft and an ace by age 25, throwing 98 mph heat with a left arm live enough to make the most hardened scout sing.Raised only 34 miles apart in central Tennessee, Dickey and Price won baseball's Cy Young awards on Wednesday -- one by a wide margin, the other in a tight vote.Two paths to the pantheon of pitching have rarely been more different."Isn't that awesome?" said Dickey, the first knuckleballer to win a Cy Young. "It just shows you there's not just one way to do it, and it gives hope to a lot of people."Dickey said he jumped up and yelled in excitement, scaring one of his kids, when he saw on television that Price edged Justin Verlander for the American League prize. Both winners are represented by Bo McKinnis, who watched the announcements with Dickey at his home in Nashville, Tenn."I guess we can call him Cy agent now," Price quipped on a conference call.The hard-throwing lefty barely beat out Verlander in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, preventing the Detroit Tigers' ace from winning consecutive Cy Youngs.Runner-up two years ago, Price was the pick this time. He received 14 of 28 first-place votes and finished with 153 points to 149 for Verlander, chosen first on 13 ballots."It means a lot," Price said. "It's something that I'll always have. It's something that they can't take away from me."Other than a 1969 tie between Mike Cuellar and Denny McLain, it was the closest race in the history of the AL award.Rays closer Fernando Rodney got the other first-place vote and came in fifth.The 38-year-old Dickey was listed first on 27 of 32 National League ballots and totaled 209 points, 113 more than 2011 winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez finished third.Cincinnati right-hander Johnny Cueto and Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel each received a first-place vote, as did Gonzalez. Kershaw had two.Dickey joined Dwight Gooden (1985) and three-time winner Tom Seaver as the only Mets to win the award. The right-hander went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, making him the club's first 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990, and became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters.Perhaps most impressive, Dickey did it all during a season when the fourth-place Mets finished 74-88."It just feels good all over," he said on MLB Network.Dickey switched from conventional pitcher to full-time knuckleballer in a last-ditch effort to save his career. It took him years to finally master the floating, darting pitch, which he often throws harder (around 80 mph) and with more precision than almost anyone who used it before him."I knew what I was going to be up against in some regard when I embraced this pitch," Dickey said.He was the first cut at Mets spring training in 2010 but earned a spot in the big league rotation later that season and blossomed into a dominant All-Star this year. He led the NL in strikeouts (230), innings (233 2-3), complete games (five) and shutouts (three) -- pitching through an abdominal injury most of the way."I am not a self-made man by any stretch of the imagination," Dickey said. "The height of this story, it's mind-blowing to me, it really is."A member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Dickey was devastated when the Texas Rangers reduced their signing-bonus offer from more than 800,000 to 75,000 after they discovered during a physical that he was missing a major ligament in his pitching elbow.Undeterred, perseverance got him to the big leagues anyway. When he failed, the knuckleball brought him back.Among those he thanked ceaselessly for helping him on that long and winding road to success were all his proud knuckleball mentors, including Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro."It brings a real degree of legitimacy I think to the knuckleball fraternity and I'm glad to represent them and I'm certainly grateful to all those guys," Dickey said. "This was a victory for all of us."Dickey said he received 127 text messages and 35-40 phone calls in the moments immediately following the Cy Young announcement.The only call he took was from Niekro, a 318-game winner from 1964-87. The first texts Dickey responded to were from Wakefield and Hough."Most well-deserved," Niekro said in a comment provided by the Hall of Fame. "I'm super proud of him, as a pitcher and as an individual."Dickey has one year left on his contract at 5.25 million and New York general manager Sandy Alderson has said signing the pitcher to a multiyear deal is one of his top offseason priorities. Alderson, however, would not rule out trading his unlikely ace."I believe the Mets are going to be a lot better and I want to be part of the solution," Dickey said, adding that he hopes the sides can strike a deal and he'd be happy to end his career in New York."I want to be loyal to an organization that's given me an opportunity," he said. "At the same time, you don't want to be taken advantage of. I've been on that side of it, too, as a player."Price went 20-5 to tie Jered Weaver for the American League lead in victories and winning percentage. The 27-year-old lefty had the lowest ERA at 2.56 and finished sixth in strikeouts with 205.Verlander, also the league MVP a year ago, followed that up by going 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA and pitching the Detroit Tigers to the World Series. He led the majors in strikeouts (239), innings (238 1-3) and complete games (six).Price tossed 211 innings in 31 starts, while Verlander made 33. One factor that could have swung some votes, however, was this: Price faced stiffer competition in the rugged AL East than Verlander did in the AL Central."I guess it's a blessing and a curse at the same time," Price said. "There's not an easy out in the lineups every game. It feels like a postseason game."The No. 1 pick in the 2007 amateur draft out of Vanderbilt, Price reached the majors the following year and has made three straight All-Star teams.Despite going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010, he finished a distant second in Cy Young voting to Felix Hernandez, who won only 13 games for last-place Seattle but dominated most other statistical categories that year.The two MVP awards will be announced Thursday. Verlander's teammate, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, is a leading contender in the American League.NOTES:The last AL pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Youngs was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000. San Francisco RHP Tim Lincecum did it in the National League in 2008-09. ... Price and Dickey became the fourth pair of Cy Young winners born in the same state, according to STATS. The others were Jim Lonborg and Mike McCormick in 1967 (California), Viola and Orel Hershiser in 1988 (New York) and Pat Hentgen and John Smoltz in 1996 (Michigan). ... Niekro and his brother, Joe, both finished second in Cy Young voting, as did fellow knuckleballer Wilbur Wood.

With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

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With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

Continuity along the offensive line was one of the reasons the Patriots were able to have the season they had in 2016. They tossed aside the early-season experiementation that Bill Belichick favored at times in order to establish a starting five that could be relied upon, if healthy, start to finish. 

They attacked 2017 with the same approach, but because of injury the consistency simply has not been the same. Both starting tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, have missed time injured this season, and Cannon will sit out again on Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. 

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The interior of the line has remained largely in place until this week when center David Andrews came down with an illness, missed two practices, and was ruled out. 

On a line where familiarity is key, where the center is the one making the calls, the one in constant communication with Tom Brady, what now?

The Patriots will likely turn to second-year man Ted Karras, who has the ability to play both guard spots and also backed up Andrews for the vast majority of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was released at the end of camp, quickly signed to the Patriots practice squad, and then he re-signed to the active roster in Week 1 when Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.

Karras, drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Illinois, was named a practice player of the week earlier this year and he earned some praise from Belichick before the Patriots took off for Mexico City.

"Ted works hard," Belichick said. "He loves football. He gets there early, stays late."

Belichick noted that Karras (nine snaps, all against the Broncos) hasn't played much this season, but he did see plenty of work early last season when he filled in for an injured Shaq Mason. He was the Week 1 starter at right guard in a win ver the Cardinals and he played 41 snaps in Week 2 against the Dolphins. 

The Patriots offensive line could also potentially turn to Joe Thuney at center. He's practiced there before and got some experience at the position during his time at NC State. This seems like the less likely move since the Patriots would then have to deal with two new players at different spots -- center and left guard (whether the player replacing Thuney would be Karras or rookie Cole Croston) -- which could have a domino effect on the rest of the line. 

However the Patriots choose to handle it, they'll face an interesting test south of the border. The Raiders feature a pair of talented pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who Belichick says play all over the offensive line, yet Oakland is tied for last in the league in sacks. 

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

If the Patriots are about to go up against one of the more talented punters in the league, one way or another, you're bound to hear about it from Bill Belichick.

Sometimes Belichick will go into great detail on opposing punters in one of his weekly press conferences. Sometimes he'll go out of his way to highlight a punter during one of his "breakdowns" on Patriots.com. 

He went the latter route this week, gushing over Raiders punter Marquette King.

"We usually don't have the punters on the highlights here, but King's a very athletic punter," Belichick said. "He runs a lot of fakes, a guy you have to really be conscious of as a both holder on field goals and punts on fakes."

King is the No. 2 punter in the league when it comes to net punting (45.5 yards), and he's tenth in the league in terms of the number of punts dropped inside the 20-yard line. 

"King is an athletic guy," Belichick reiterated, "and he can change field-position big time."

Add him to the list of big-legged punters -- "weapons," if you will -- Belichick has praised in the past.

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