Patriots

McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

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McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It began last September, two days after their season had flamed out in Baltimore. Six months later, the gradual dismantling of the Red Sox continues, unabated.

The manager is gone, and so is the general manager who hired him. The pitcher who very nearly set the franchise record for most wins in franchise history retired two weeks ago, and Thursday, the catcher -- stalwart and team captain -- followed him out the door. Together, they had parts of 32 seasons together in Red Sox uniforms.

In 2004, when the franchise rid itself of the ghosts and ended the title drought, it was said: These are not your father's Red Sox anymore.

Now, just eight years later, they're not even those Red Sox anymore.

Time marches on, and with it, inexorably, go the veteran players.

For the longest time, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek were as much a part of the Red Sox as Fenway itself. Now, they each have the dreaded ''ex'' in front of their names: ex-player, ex-captain, ex-Red Sox.

Past tense.

When Varitek arrived, the Red Sox hadn't figured it out yet, but they were getting there. In 1999, just his second full season, they reached the ALCS, only to demonstrate how far they still had to go.

Varitek was part of the learning curve, the long, slow climb to the top of the mountain. As he learned behind the plate, the pitching got better, too. The two were not unrelated.

The arrival of Curt Schilling in 2004, to go with Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, created arguably the best rotation in modern Red Sox history and Varitek was the one in charge, a year before he was given the captaincy.

He cajoled, pushed, and shaped them, and when Varitek leaped into Keith Foulke's arms after the final out of Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, it was, in every sense of the word, a leap of faith.

Months earlier, Varitek was responsible for an epochal turning point in franchise history. A mid-summer grudge match with the Yankees had turned ugly and Varitek, no fan of Alex Rodriguez to begin with, had had enough of Rodriguez's angry declarations toward Red Sox pitchers.

Varitek intercepted any bad intentions A-Rod had after being hit by a pitch, and gave the Yankee third baseman a facewash with his catcher's mitt.

To this day, eight years later, that image -- Red Sox catcher puts Yankee star in his place -- is the screen-saver, the bedroom poster, the avatar of Red Sox fans everywhere.

The picture said something. It said the Red Sox would not be pushed around by the Yankees, that they would not bow to their tormentors. Three months later, in St. Louis, it was as if Varitek's line-in-the-sand moment was ultimately validated.

After two World Series in the span of four seasons, success for the Red Sox dried up. The trajectory has plain and unsettling. From the 2007 title, the Sox went to Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, to getting swept in the 2008 Division Series to two straight playoff DNQs.

In the interim, Wakefield and Varitek were both marginalized as players, their contributions diminished. Wakefield returned to spot starter, Varitek to backup catcher, and this spring, they read the proverbial writing. It was time to go.

Now, the Red Sox are someone else's team. Perhaps they belong to Dustin Pedroia, as vocal as Varitek has been stoic and quietly steady. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, they will soon belong to someone who has not yet played a major-league game -- say, Will Middlebrooks, or perhaps someone still in the lower minor leagues.

Whomever becomes the face of the franchise, it's doubtful that his career will last in Boston as long as Varitek's did. It's virtually certain that that career will not span eras the way Varitek's did, with as many defining moments, or transcendent events.

Should the Red Sox win a third championship in this young century, it won't have the same impact as the first one in 2004, or for that matter, the one that followed in 2007, guaranteeing that the first was not a fluke.

You may not recognize what's left of those Red Sox. But you surely will not forget them.

Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

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Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

Cassius Marsh was brought to New England to help a depleted defensive end group and play in the kicking game. The Patriots wanted him badly enough that they parted with two draft picks -- a fifth and a seventh -- to acquire him in a trade with the Seahawks just before the start of the season. 

Less than three months later, they've decided to part ways with the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder. 

Marsh played in nine games for the Patriots this season, providing the team with an edge defender and someone with special-teams experience. He blocked a kick in Week 7 against the Falcons that earned him an enthusiastic attaboy from coach Bill Belichick. 

Coming off the edge, Marsh recorded one sack and 13 hurries. Against the run, he was used more sparingly, and he was one of the Patriots on the scene for Marshawn Lynch's 25-yard run in the second quarter on Sunday. He played in just two snaps in Mexico City after missing the previous week's game in Denver due to a shoulder injury. 

Without Marsh the Patriots remain thin at defensive end. In order to help bolster that spot, the corresponding move the Patriots made to fill the open spot on their 53-man roster was to sign defensive lineman Eric Lee off of the Bills practice squad. 

Lee entered the league with the Texans last season as an undrafted rookie out of South Florida. Listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Lee has bounced on and off of the Bills practice squad this season since being released by the Texans before this season.

The Patriots got a good look at Lee during joint practices last summer with the Texans at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. In the preseason game with the Texans that week, Lee played 40 snaps and according to Pro Football Focus he had two quarterback hurries. The Patriots have a history of snagging players they've practiced against, and with Lee, that trend continues

Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

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Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.

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