Patriots

Wakefield rocked as Sox fall hard again, 9-2

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Wakefield rocked as Sox fall hard again, 9-2

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The Twins entered last nights game with a record of 11-18, one of just two teams with a worse record in the American League than the Red Sox. They were worst team in baseball at scoring runs, with just 89 this season, the fewest in baseball. Their pitchers had allowed 151 runs, tied for fourth-most. Those numbers did little to help the Red Sox Friday night at Fenway, as they fell to the Twins 9-2 at Fenway Park.

Over the last two games, Red Sox starting pitching has sorely been lacking. Friday night it was Tim Wakefields turn. Starting in place of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was pushed back to Sunday after pitching an inning of relief, and taking the loss, in Wednesdays marathon game with the Angels, Wakefield lasted just 4 13 innings against the Twins, his second start of the season. He allowed eight runs (six earned) one nine hits and four walks with a strikeout and a balk.

Wakefield gave up a solo home run in the first inning to Trevor Plouffe in his first plate appearance of the season. He gave up three more in the second, including one on a balk. Manager Terry Francona came out to discuss the call with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez and was ejected.

In the fifth, Wakefield gave up a walk and four hits while recording just one out, before giving way to Alfredo Aceves, who was called up before the game. Wakefield left two runners on base for Aceves. After Aceves struck out his first batter, the Twins scored two more on Jed Lowries first of two errors on the night. Wakefield took the loss, falling to 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA.

The Sox offense, meanwhile, could do little with Twins starter Scott Baker, who went eight innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. The two runs came on solo homers by J.D. Drew in the second and Adrian Gonzalez in the fourth. Baker earned the win, improving to 2-2, with a 2.97 ERA.

With the loss, the Sox fall to 14-18.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Scott Baker

The Twins right-hander kept the Red Sox off balance and off the scoreboard for most of the night, except for solo home runs by J.D. Drew and Adrian Gonzalez. In his fifth start of the season, he improved to 2-2, lowering his ERA to 2.97. Except for the home runs, he allowed just one baserunner to reach third Carl Crawford on Jarrod Saltalamacchias ground-rule double in the eight, his final inning.

It was his first career win against the Sox, in his fifth appearance (fourth start).

Throw hard, Jed Lowrie said of what made Baker successful. He was consistently in the low to mid 90s all night, and locating it, and throwing the slider and changeup enough to keep people off balance. Just had good stuff tonight.

HONORABLE MENTION: Trevor Plouffe

In his first plate appearance of 2011, Plouffe, who was called up Wednesday, homered off Wakefield in the first inning for the Twins first run of the game. He went 2-for-4 and was on base four times, with a walk, and reaching on a fielders choice, and scored three times. It was also during his second-inning at-bat that Tim Wakefield balked, scoring the Twins fourth run of the game, third of the inning.

THE GOAT: Tim Wakefield

Although Wakefield was making just his second start of the season, the Red Sox and their bullpen, which was still recovering from 8 23 innings in the marathon game that started Wednesday night and ended in the wee hours of Thursday morning needed him to go deeper, and better, in this game. In his last start, May 1 against the Mariners, he went 5 23 innings, throwing 76 pitches, giving up just one run on three hit. Something along those lines would have helped. Instead, he lasted just 4 13 innings, throwing 84 pitches, giving up eight runs (six earned) on nine hits with four walks, a strikeout, and a balk. Alfredo Aceves, who was called up just before the game, finished the rest of the game, 4 13 innings. Aceves longest outing this season is five innings in a start for Pawtucket on April 29. Availability for his next game is uncertain. Likewise, Wakefield probably wont be available for several days either.

I had a little trouble today, said Wakefield, who fell to 0-1, with a 5.73 ERA. Obviously I walked four guys and couldnt find the strike zone and when I did, one ball was hit out of the park and the other one was a double a couple of doubles. Other than that this wasnt a good night.

Just one of those nights. Tried to get us deep in the game and that didn't happen. So Im disappointed in that. Were trying to rest guys and the bullpens been taxed the last couple of days and I take a lot of pride in trying to give us innings and I didnt get into the fifth, so

THE TURNING POINT

With the Twins up, 3-0, in the second inning, two outs, two runs already across the plate in the inning, and runners on first and third, it appeared Wakefield, who faked a throw to third and threw to first, had picked Ben Revere off first base. Instead, homeplate umpire Angel Hernandez immediately called a balk. Instead of the Sox getting out of the inning, the Twins scored another run.

Manager Terry Francona approached Hernandez for an explanation of the play. He was quickly rebuffed and ejected. The situation escalated with Francona frustrated in his inability to get an explanation. Crew chief Joe West, umpiring third base, attempted to intervene, but the situation rapidly deteriorated. Francona became irate at Wests attempts to hold him away from Hernandez. As Francona left the field, he removed his tobacco from his mouth, firing it in Hernandezs direction. Francona will likely face a suspension and possible a fine for his efforts.

West was grabbing me, Francona said. I didnt appreciate that. I thought it was wrong. I thought he was out of line.

The scene represented a microcosm of the Sox 2011 season frustration, an inability to find answers, and coming out on the losing end.

STAT OF THE DAY: .316

The Twins entered the game hitting a combined .230, last in the American League, 28th out of 30 major league teams. Against the Sox Friday night, they went 12-for-38, (.316) raising their team average to three points to .233.

Lead-off Span, Plouffe, Michael Cuddyer, and Danny Valencia each had two hits.

QUOTE OF NOTE:

Were not going to use yesterday as an excuse for today. In that game we were here till 3 in the morning playing, 2:30, whatever it was. It doesnt matter. We got to move on.

--Jed Lowrie, if the long game that started Wednesday evening and ended almost eight hours later, at 2:45 Thursday morning with the Sox losing to the Angels has had any emotional or physical toll on the team.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

John Elway created a stir this week when he said his Broncos, after a 3-1 start, had “gotten a little bit soft." Elway, the Broncos GM, said that after five straight Denver losses – the last two by the combined score of 92-39

Denver’s head coach Vance Joseph said Elway’s remark bothered him. He talked to his players about it. On Sunday, the Broncos went out and did something about it. They lost by just three at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Yay.

They’re pretty much all soft in the AFC this year. Check out the AFC West. There’s Denver. And the Raiders – who the Patriots handled with disturbing ease on Sunday, 33-8. The 5-4 Kansas City Chiefs, who lost on the road to the one-win Giants after starting the season 5-0.

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The AFC East is soft. Miami was 4-2. It’s lost four straight including a 40-0 loss to Baltimore. The Jets were 3-2, they’re now 4-6 (which is a minor miracle given how ragged their roster is). The Bills were 5-2, now they’re 5-5 having lost by a combined 101-34 the past two weeks as head coach Sean McDermott willingly stuck a butter knife in an electrical outlet and replaced Tyrod Taylor with a not-ready-for-preseason-Week-4 Nathan Peterman.

The AFC South is led by the Jaguars and Titans. Jacksonville – which can play some defense – isn’t as bad as the rest. The Jags have won four straight and play cutthroat defense, but they had their hands full with the 0-10 Browns on Sunday. During the week, running back Leonard Fournette complained about having to play in the cold in Cleveland. At least he showed up Sunday and ran for 111. The Titans are awful when they leave Tennessee, which was further proven last Thursday when they lost 40-17 at Pittsburgh. Since October began, they’ve been outscored 122-43 in four road games. Their one road win in that span was a 12-9 decision over Cleveland. 

The big, bad AFC North contingent led by the Steelers at 8-2? Talented. But led by a forever-whining, passive-aggressive quarterback who openly and annually mulls retirement and two “me first” skill guys in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Their greatest strength may be in executing elaborate post-touchdown skits. Vital.

Meanwhile, here are the boring-ass Patriots. Yeah, they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and continuity in the program and coaching staff, but the gap between them and everyone else in the conference is that they don’t worry about the cold or the road or the five-act plays after they score.

They stayed a week in Colorado Springs to get ready for the altitude. Two Patriots – Stephon Gilmore and Danny Amendola – had to be treated for dehydration in the second half. After five PLAYS, Raiders rookie Obi Melifonwu was asking out of the game saying he couldn’t breathe.

The Raiders – a team that went 12-4 last year - haven’t improved a bit defensively all season. They are – under head coach Jack Del Rio – one of those “we do what we do” defenses the Patriots love to face because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Brady is now 8-1 against Del Rio-led teams/defenses and the numbers against Del Rio’s teams are absurd: 225 completions on 310 attempts for (73 percent) for 2,387 yards, 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

It just feels like the AFC is a collection of teams, with an overwhelming majority of them in turn-it-on, turn-it-off mode. Their coaches are just kind of casting about, constantly open to suggestion and willing to give anything a shot because, hell, they better try something to get hot or they’ll be passing out resumes at the Combine in four months.

The Patriots remaining schedule goes like this: Dolphins, Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, Bills, Jets. Shake me awake on December 17 when the Steelers game comes. And we have a mountain of data explaining how that one will go too.

I’m not weary of the team. It’s historic and fascinating, like watching a hooded Mozart compose and a helmeted Van Gogh paint every week. But the exercise of trying to conjure scenarios where the Patriots play November football with the exquisite ineptitude of their opponents is not easy.

They are doing this without Julian Edelman or Dont'a Hightower. They played Sunday without Chris Hogan, David Andrews, Marcus Cannon and Matt Slater.

Offenses can’t score against them. Defenses can’t stop them. They create points on special teams. They manage the game, the clock and their opponents like simple arithmetic while every other team’s doing trigonometry. What was broken in September has been long fixed.

The time will come again when the Patriots appear just as inept, clueless and mired in mediocrity as every other AFC team appears right now. But it won’t be this year.

So embrace the softness? I guess?

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

ARLINGTON, Texas - No kicker, no problem for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carson Wentz threw for two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions after Philadelphia lost kicker Jake Elliott to a head injury, and the Eagles all but wrapped up the NFC East with a 37-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

The Eagles (9-1) outscored the Cowboys 30-0 in the second half while extending their winning streak to eight games, their longest since 2003-04 and tied with New Orleans for the best current run in the NFL.

Philadelphia leads the second-place and defending division champion Cowboys (5-5) by four games with six to play after handing Dallas its worst home loss at 8-year-old AT&T Stadium.

Dallas' Dak Prescott threw a career-high three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in his second straight loss without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, serving a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.

Jake Elliott's injury wasn't a factor for nearly a half because the NFL-leading Eagles couldn't get in scoring position. They failed to get a first down on five straight first-half drives, starting with one at the Dallas 15 when Elliott missed a 34-yard attempt and soon after left the field.

Trailing 9-7 at halftime, Wentz led the Eagles on scoring drives of 75, 90 and 85 yards, the middle one boosted by Jay Ajayi's 71-yard run against his hometown team in his second game since getting traded by Miami.

"The biggest thing was sticking with the game plan," said Wentz, who is up to 25 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. "The big boys up front kind of came out angry. We ran the ball the second half really effectively."

Ajayi had 91 yards on seven carries and LeGarrette Blount added 57 on 13 carries, including a 30-yarder leading to the last offensive touchdown.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared at halftime that he would go for every fourth down and try 2-point conversions after every touchdown.

It came into play right away when Corey Clement scored on an 11-yard run to open the second half and ran in a screen pass behind three blockers for the 2-pointer.

The first fourth-down try was Wentz's 17-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery for a 29-9 lead. That 2-point pass failed. Torrey Smith had the other TD catch, an 11-yarder.

After Derek Barnett hit Prescott's leg and arm as he was throwing, Nigel Bradham picked up the loose ball and ran it 37 yards for a touchdown. Wentz's 2-point pass to Trey Burton provided the final margin.

"We got some nice 2-point conversions," said Wentz, who was 14 of 27 for 168 yards. "Now we've got to go back to the drawing board with our 2-point plays."

The Cowboys appeared to have fixed the problems of missing injured left tackle Tyron Smith and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee from a week earlier, when they allowed eight sacks of Prescott along with three Atlanta scoring drives following Lee's injury in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons.

But after protecting Prescott fairly well before halftime, Dallas allowed three sacks and 180 of Philadelphia's season-high 215 yards rushing in the second half. Lee's replacement at weakside linebacker, Anthony Hitchens, left with a groin injury after halftime.

Prescott was 18 of 31 for 145 yards for a career-worst 30.4 passer rating before backup Cooper Rush took mop-up duty.

"It's no excuses," said Prescott, who teamed with Elliott in a remarkable rookie season that is now a distant memory with already two more losses and three more interceptions than Prescott had a year ago. Elliott won't be back until the final two games of the regular season.

"We're not saying injuries or any of that's bothering us. We're not saying it's the reason we're not winning is because of those guys."

NO RUST THIS TIME

The Eagles had a focus on being better following the bye after losing nine of 11 last season after a 3-0 start going into the break. Now Philadelphia will take a shot at the best record in the NFL with history on its side when starting this strong. The Eagles have two NFL championships (1949, 1960) and two trips to the Super Bowl (1980, 2004, both losses) following 9-1 starts.

SECOND-HALF MELTDOWNS

The Cowboys have been outscored 47-0 in the second half the past two weeks following a three-game winning streak that seemed to have Dallas back on track following an NFC-best 13-3 record last season.

"It would be pretty tough not to panic, but I don't think we are panicking," said running back Alfred Morris, who had 91 yards filling in for Ezekiel Elliott. "It's been two tough losses, ugly losses on top of that. But at the same time, I know the character of this team and the fight we have."

EMERGENCY KICKER

Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is the emergency kicker for the Eagles. But he completely missed the safety net on a practice try on the sidelines, sending the ball into the stands. He did reach the goal line with his first kickoff, though.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Home against Chicago next Sunday.

Cowboys: Los Angeles Chargers visiting for annual Thanksgiving game.

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