Still waiting on A-Gon


Still waiting on A-Gon

Last night, Adrian Gonzalez had another chance to give the Red Sox a much-needed lift. In fact, he had two chances. But, as we've seen all too often this year, Gonzalez came up small in a big situation.

One one hand, it's obviously early, and Gonzalez is no stranger to slow starts.

He only hit one home run last April, before exploding for nine homers in May and morphing into the most precise and dominant Sox slugger since Manny. Still, even with the impressive numbers Gonzalez ultimately posted in 2011, there were a few concerning caveats.

That he hit .183 (13-84) against the Yankees and .131 (8 for 61) against the Rays. That he hit .391 when the Sox were winning, and only .274 when they were behind. That, basically, he didn't have a feel or the fortitude to step up when the Sox needed him most.

Maybe that was unfair, but we could only go on what we saw, and Gonzalez certainly didn't help himself with some of the things he said off the field.

"I'm a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't in his plan for us to move forward," he said, in the moments after the Sox lost to the Orioles in Game 162, completing one of the worst collapses in more than 100 years of Major League baseball. And believe it or not, that didn't go over very well. It made everyone wonder if Gonzalez might have been better off playing out the rest of his days in a place like San Diego, where baseball plays second fiddle to things like surfing, golf and brunch.

So far in 2012, Gonzalez has done little to alter that perception.

This year, he's a .323 hitter when the Sox are winning, but comes in at a cool .216 when they're behind. He's hitting .273 with two outs and runners in scoring position. He's hitting .182 in "Late & Close" situations (defined by Baseball Reference as plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck). He went 2-9 in the Yankees series, and even though he did hit .353 in four games against the Rays, five of his six hits were singles and only one resulted in an RBI.

And that brings us back to last night.

First, the bottom of seventh inning: The Sox are trailing 4-1, but have loaded the bases and finally knocked starter Brandon McCarthy out of the game. In other words, they've got all the momentum in the world, and Gonzalez their should-be best hitter in the box. There are two outs.

Now, in Gonzalez's defense, A's reliever Ryan Cook has been lights out this season (he's now given up only two hits and zero runs over 12.1 innings), but he's also Ryan Cook. And we're talking about Adrian Gonzalez here.

Gonzalez looked awful, striking out on sixth pitches, extinguishing all the momentum and slamming his bat to the ground in disgust.

Next, it's the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Sox have Oakland closer Brian Fuentes on the ropes (where he pretty much lives these days). From the on-deck circle, Gonzalez watches Dustin Pedroia (who, by comparison, is hitting .316 when the Sox are ahead, but .333 when they're behind; .400 with two outs and runners in scoring position; .444 in late and close situations) hit a two-out RBI double to cut Oakland's lead to 4-2. Gonzalez then stepped in to the box representing the tying run and grounded out to third base.

He's now hitting .250 on the season with a .697 OPS. He's hitless in his last 17 at-bats.

However, there are still a few reasons to be optimistic after last night's ugly show.

First, I loved Gonzalez reaction after striking out in the seventh. Just the raw emotion of slamming the bat and appearing visibly angry in himself and the situation. Maybe that means he's pressing, but at least it shows that he's alive. That he's a competitive human being capable of that kind of display.

Second, after the game, he didn't blame the loss on God's plan, but instead his own failures.

"This game is all on me,'' he said. "I had two great opportunities and I didn't come through. It's one of those things that I'll make a definite point to not let happen again."

The accountability was refreshing.

And lastly, he's Adrian Gonzalez. He's averaged 33 homers and 107 RBI over the last five years. He had 213 hits last season the fourth most in Red Sox history! you have to assume that it's only a matter of time before he gets back on track and commences blowing our minds on a nightly basis.

But for now, it sure is frustrating.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31


Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

SEATTLE - Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did enough through 3 1/2 quarters that even the best comeback attempt by Russell Wilson fell short this time.

A couple of yards short to be exact.

Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes, Adrian Clayborn returned a fumble 10 yards for a score and the Falcons watched Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds fall short, holding off the Seattle Seahawks for a 34-31 win on Monday night.

Atlanta won its second straight to stay on the heels of New Orleans and Carolina in the NFC South, and handed Seattle a second consecutive home loss.

"What an absolute team win from the guys tonight," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "Coming here, in this environment, with the crowd, we thought it would be two competitive, tough teams that were going to battle for it in the biggest way."

Ryan threw TDs to Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo, while Tevin Coleman added a 1-yard TD run on Atlanta's opening possession.

But it was Clayborn's fumble return that helped break the game open early in the second quarter and gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead. He scooped up a loose ball after Wilson was crunched by Takk McKinley and Courtney Upshaw.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. We keep proving we can finish games and beat guys. We have to take the momentum and keep rolling with it," Clayborn said.

With Seattle down 11 points, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 29-yard TD with 3 minutes left and then threw to Jimmy Graham for the two-point conversion. Seattle got the ball back and moved in range for Walsh, whose attempt was on line but landed short of the crossbar.

"That was in our range, and in hindsight I would have just driven it more," Walsh said. "I would have driven it more and not left it short. I was too accurate and didn't have enough on it."

Wilson again was the entirety of Seattle's offense, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another 86 yards and a TD.

But it was an awful night for the Seahawks, filled with more injuries and questionable decisions by coach Pete Carroll. He called for a fake field goal late in the first half rather than attempting a 35-yard kick. He also made a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter that didn't go his way and left Seattle with just one timeout.

That lack of timeouts came back to haunt Seattle on the final drive when seconds ticked away and rather than running one more play, Walsh was sent out to attempt the 52-yard kick. His long for the season is 49 yards.

The conclusion only amplified Carroll's baffling decision at the end of the first half, when Seattle ran a fake field goal rather than having Walsh attempt a 35-yarder that would have pulled Seattle within 24-20. Holder Jon Ryan completed his shovel pass to Luke Willson, but Grady Jarrett read the play and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss.

Willson said Atlanta's defense on the play was different than what Seattle had seen on film.

"It would have been a really good call if we had made it," Carroll said. "Terrific opportunity right where we wanted it and the defensive tackle made a better play."

Seattle played a game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season without Richard Sherman. His streak of 99 consecutive starts in the regular season was snapped because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered against Arizona. The Seahawks were also without safety Kam Chancellor because of a neck injury, leaving their vaunted secondary with several new faces.

"Those two are phenomenal players. ... It was a lot different," Sanu said. "They did a lot of different things but we just had to take advantage of our routes."


Ryan was more than happy to pick on a defense without Sherman and Chancellor. He was 19 of 27 passing for 195 yards and rarely faced pressure. Seattle had one sack, and the Falcons went 9 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Sanu made a great one-handed grab for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Ryan found Toilolo on a 25-yard TD in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 31-20 lead. Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field goal with 3:49 left to put the Falcons ahead by 11, and Wilson's late heroics weren't enough.

Ryan's streak of 64 straight games passing for at least 200 yards was snapped.


Seattle's injury woes continued. The Seahawks lost rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a concussion on the second play of the game, forcing newly signed veteran Byron Maxwell into a more prominent role than expected.

Early in the second half, promising running back Mike Davis was lost to a groin injury after taking a screen pass 21 yards. Davis had two receptions and had carried six times for 18 yards before getting hurt. Seattle also lost starting guard Oday Aboushi in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta got a scare when safety Keanu Neal was checked for a concussion in the first half. He was cleared to return.


Falcons: Host Tampa Bay on Sunday to open a three-game homestand.

Seahawks: Travel to division foe San Francisco on Sunday.


'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.


But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak, which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.