Red Sox taken aback by Varitek retirement


Red Sox taken aback by Varitek retirement

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- News that former teammate Jason Varitek has decided to officially retire Thursday couldn't have come as a great shock to Red Sox players.

Nevertheless, as players dressed Tuesday morning, some couldn't quite get over the fact that, for the first time since 1998, Varitek wouldn't be part of Red Sox.

"I was expecting Tek to play until he was 60,'' said Clay Buchholz only half-jokingly. "He awesome behind there and I still think he could be awesome behind the plate and have a job in baseball. But this is his decision.''

"Definitely,'' agreed David Ortiz. "We're used to seeing Tek walking around and doing his thing. Walking in this year and not seeing him was something unexpected. Man, we're going to miss him.''

Varitek affected different teammates in different ways. With pitchers, he preached preparation and took a firm hand with them on the mound. For fellow catchers, he unselfishly helped others, even if it meant he was helping to groom someone who would one day take his position.

"He meant a lot, obviously,'' said Jarrod Saltamaacchia, who supplanted Varitek as the No. 1 Red Sox catcher in 2011. "Last year, (he) was a huge, huge help in getting my career back on track.''

"He was a great teammate,'' said David Ortiz, who, with the retirement of Varitek and Tim Wakefield in recent weeks, is now the longest tenured Red Sox player. "It certainly was a good ride, being Tek's teammate. There's a lot of memories involved in that.''

Saltalamacchia could tell that there was something special about Varitek even before they were teammates.

Recalling his time in Texas, Saltalamacchia said: "The way he went about his business. I wasn't even in the clubhouse, but I could just see from across the field how people looked at him, how people respected him.''

"(He taught me) how to pitch,'' recalled Clay Buchholz, who joked that it took almost two seasons for him to not feel intimidated by Varitek's steely demeanor. "He helped slow the game down, how to pitch to certain guys, how to get out of certain situations. He was a (instrumental) part of my learning experience in baseball."

Saltalamacchia, who came to the Red Sox in August of 2010 when Varitek was recovering from a broken foot, remembers feeling unsure of himself in 2011 when he took over the top catcher's role.

"I was definitely a little hesitant,'' he said. "I didn't know how to act toward the pitchers. I always looked to him to get a meeting started, but he did an unbelievable job of letting those guys know where I stood and where he stood.

"I didn't expect him to be so helpful. It was like, 'Hey, man, this is your team. You're the captain.' But that's the kind of person he is. He always wanted to make me feel comfortable, always wanted to help me out. He stuck up for me a lot of times. I can't thank him enough for jump-starting my career again. I learned a lot from him. He kind of gave me the confidence back that I needed to be a player.''

Buchholz recalled his 2007 no-hitter against Baltimore and how Varitek helped calm his nerves.

"Early in the game, I shook him off a couple of times and had a couple of missiles hit,'' said Buchholz. "They were caught, but after that it was like, 'OK, I'm just going to throw whatever he puts down.' When the game started speeding up on me, a couple of times I remember him calling time out and running out (to the mound) and telling me to take a couple of deep breaths and to throw a pitch down-and-away to get a ground ball and get out of an inning.

"That's what I'll always remember about him, that he was a guy who could calm you down whenever things were starting to speed up.''

Varitek and the Red Sox have had some discussions about keeping Varitek in the organization to help with both pitchers and catchers.

"Now that he's going to retire,'' said Ortiz, "he's the kind of person this organization is going to need keep very close. This is a guy who did nothing but good things.''

"It'd be good for the pitchers,'' said Buchholz, "but it would be really good for the catchers, especially younger guys coming up because he's such an asset and resource for guys who want to learn about the game. Having a guy who's played for so many years, and played in Boston, would be a great asset.''

Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"


Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

BOSTON – At the end of the day, it was simply a game where the Bruins allowed themselves to get outworked in the third period and overtime. 

The B’s held a three-goal lead in the second period and still enjoyed a two-goal lead in the third period, but eventually dropped a frustrating, futile 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was clear to most speaking after the game that the Bruins eased up on the gas pedal once they’d scored their fourth goal of the game in the second period, and simply watched as the Sabres stomped all over them in the game’s second half. 

“I think we might have been a little bit too scared to play [in the third period], you know? We tried to just flip the pucks away, and didn’t make any plays trying to get it in the zone. Instead we should have just kept going like we did in the first two periods,” said David Pastrnak, who scored a pair of goals early in the loss to allow the Bruins to build up the three-goal lead. “Obviously we’re disappointed. We got one point. I think we didn’t play our game in the third period. We kind of stopped playing and they were all over us, and you know, it’s on us. We were the ones that gave them their point, but the first two periods were good. It’s just another learning session.”

To Pastrnak’s point, the Bruins were outshot by a 15-6 margin in the final 20 minutes of regulation and 21-6 overall in the third period and overtime prior to Ryan O’Reilly’s game-winner during 3-on-3 play. It was at this point the Bruins certainly missed stalwart stay-at-home defensemen Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller in the D-zone, and fell short of qualified penalty killers while trying to burn off a Brandon Carlo interference call at the end of the third period. 

All of that caught up to them once the Bruins loosened their grip on the Sabres, but certainly the feeling is that the loss should’ve been avoidable even if some of the circumstances made it difficult for the Black and Gold. It also should have been avoidable against a Sabres hockey club that was dreadful last season, and is again one of the doormats in the Atlantic Division in the early going thus far. 

“Those are the games you can’t lose. We obviously didn’t do the job there in the third and close it out, but we’re going to have to regroup and work on our game and be better for the next one,” said Brad Marchand. “We didn’t play the game we needed to play. We relaxed a bit and we started losing a few battles in the wrong areas, and you know, they just played better than we did.”

It’s mystifying that any team would need a crash-and-born loss like Saturday night in order to learn any lessons moving forward, and it certainly might have been a different story for the Bruins if they weren’t missing a few big defensive pieces. But that’s not how it went down for the Black and Gold as they sagged under rising pressure from the Sabres, and simply stopped working when the chips were on the table late in Saturday night’s game. 

Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0


Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."