Red Sox

Do the Sox still rate?

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Do the Sox still rate?

By Michael Felger

Three thoughts for you as we exit the black hole of the sporting universe . . .

1. After going "all in" this offseason, Red Sox ownership is about to see whether their investments were enough to recapture the sporting buzz in Boston. And by that I don't mean simply garnering attention. The Sox will certainly do that. I'm talking about making a mark the way they used to -- where the Sox were Page One news and everything else (including NBA and NHL playoffs) took a back seat.

The first glimpse will come with the television ratings. If they aren't through the roof starting in Texas on Friday and carrying through the Yankees series in two weeks, then that will be an early indication that Boston has become more like everywhere else, where football-type ratings are actually reserved for football.

On the field, the Red Sox will unquestionably be more interesting than their predecessors the last few years. They'll entertain with a combination of power, speed and depth. The pitching has some question marks, but while Josh Beckett, Diasuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks could all have their problems, roller coasters are fun, aren't they? From a pure baseball standpoint, I don't see how the Sox won't be compelling this season -- even (or especially) if they struggle.

Off the field, however, it looks like this Red Sox team is no more entertaining than the button-down outfits of the last three years. This is no band of idiots. And even players who would normally fit that description (Papelbon, Beckett, Jenks, etc.) have been muted. In that way, the Sox remain built in Theo Epstein's image. Adrian Gonzalez is no Mo Vaughn, which is a great thing in terms of baseball but still not the ticket if Tom Werner is more concerned with his reality show than his starting nine.

Then again, maybe those days are simply gone for good. Even if the Sox had compelling personalities, even if they had a Pedro or a Mo Vaughn or even a Johnny Damon, would they be able to achieve that hold over us they used to? Not sure. Something tells me that ship has sailed. We tracked Matsuzaka's plane across the continent on our computers four years ago. We have no idea how Carl Crawford arrived for his presser. Times have changed.

Or have they? We'll begin to find out this weekend.

2. One question that remains from the on-going Max Pacioretty story is how the Canadiens players themselves have been affected by it. Some of them expressed disappointment in Mark Recchi's comments last week in Boston, but if they were truly outraged by them, then they sure haven't used it as fuel on the ice.

The Habs are in a free fall. They've been shut out in three straight games for the first time since 1949. They quit in Boston last Thursday and then followed that up with an 18-shot dud against the Caps on Saturday.

Not exactly rallying for the cause, is it?

It seems like just the opposite, which is why I wonder if there are players in the Montreal locker room who have actually been turned off by the hysteria that resulted from the Pacioretty hit. After all, if Zdeno Chara is going to be arrested for his check on Pacioretty, what is defenseman Hal Gill thinking? He sent the Islanders Jon Sim into the turnbuckle last December with nearly the same kind of hit. Is it safe to say Gill probably believes the police investigation is a bit much?

Or what about the players there who know what a "severe" concussion really means? Canadiens players are well aware that just 24 hours after the hit Pacioretty didn't even have a headache.

Is it possible that they've been as soured by the actions of their organization, fans and media as the rest of the hockey world?

Just asking.

3. I know I've done this many, many times before, but it is at times like these that I just can't help myself.

It's hard to tell who the bigger frauds are -- the Montreal media or the Green Teamers around here.

If you had asked Tanguay, Dickerson, Holley, Maxwell, et all, over the summer if the Celtics should swap out Kendrick Perkins for Shaquille O'Neal (which is essentially what the Perk-Jeff Green trade has boiled down to, largely because the pieces the C's added have done nothing to improve the offense) you would be laughed out of the room. To a man, they would tell you Perkins' role was underappreciated and essential to what the Celtics do as a team. They would tell you Shaq is too old, too out of shape, too selfish to fit with the C's.

Now, of course, they have resorted to exaggerating the other side's argument, which is all they have. No one ever said Perkins was Bill Russell. We only said he was an important part of what the C's were as a team. That's T-E-A-M. Ubuntu. All that. And here's the kicker:

We believed that because the Green Teamers told us! We got it from them.

But as soon as the team did an about-face, they reversed course as well. Embarrassing.

Here's all I know: The Celtics have not been better since the trade. They've lost home-court to Chicago and are on the verge of losing it to Miami, too. They were the odds-on favorite to win the title at the deadline, and now we wonder if they can get out of the East. Maybe Shaq will return and they'll get their act together -- just like they did last year. But if that doesn't happen, I wonder what the spin will be. Right now, it's Rondo's fault. Soon it will be Pierce's.

But here's one thing you can take to the bank: It will never be Danny's.

I await the next round of talking points.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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