Lester, Red Sox hoping to bounce back from slow start


Lester, Red Sox hoping to bounce back from slow start

The Red Sox entered the 2012 season with high expectations, especially after a heart-wrenching September collapse to end 2011.

Things didn't start out on the right foot for the Red Sox this year, as injuries and ineffectiveness struck the core of the roster, leaving Boston in last place in the AL East. They were dealt another blow Saturday when starting pitcher Josh Beckett landed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

"You can't worry about it," pitcher Jon Lester said. "It's stuff we can't control. This game is full of stuff you can't control. If you let it eat at you, it just makes for an even longer season.

"We hope that the injured players are going to come back shortly. We're just going to keep trying to show up everyday and grinding out games and see if we can't win some more."

CSNNewEngland's Sean McAdam interviewed Theo Epstein prior to Friday's game to discuss the state of Epstein's old team. The new Cubs president of baseball operations pointed to a hangover effect from the September collapse as part of Boston's slow start, but he also mentioned the Red Sox starting pitching.

Boston's rotation ranks 12th in the American League with a 4.82 rotation ERA. Prior to Saturday, Lester was carrying a bloated 4.57 ERA and off to one of the worst starts of his career.

But he picked up the win in the Red Sox 4-3 victory over the Cubs Saturday, throwing 6.2 innings and allowing just three runs -- all of which came on an opposite-field home run from Luis Valbuena in the seventh inning.

"Lester had six great innings," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "He was in total control, working through the humidity, working through his setbacks...He did what it took to get us a win."

"Johnny pitched great," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "He really had everything working. His changeup was probably the best I've seen. It was just one pitch at the end there. You can't really hang your head on that because he pitched a great game."

Lester allowed seven hits, but was saved in the first inning when second baseman Dustin Pedroia snared a hard-hit line drive from Starlin Castro and turned it into an inning-ending double-play.

"I threw 102 pitches and one was a mistake," Lester said, referring to the Valbuena homer. "It's still frustrating. To start the game, a couple hard-hit line drives. Pedroia made a great play on the double play there in the first, getting me out of that inning.

"Other than that, you look at the hits they had -- A couple flares to right, three infield hits. I have to take that positive from the bad contact. One squared up ball gives them three runs and it is what it is.

"I'll take the hits I gave up tonight with the exception of one. Bad contact is good contact. I'll take my chances on getting guys out with that."

The Cubs and chairman Tom Ricketts have been trying to copy the Red Sox model for over a year. When Ricketts hired Epstein in October, their goal was to build a team capable of sustained success.

Epstein accomplished that goal with the Red Sox, and Lester was a big reason why. The 28-year-old lefty sat atop the Boston rotation, compiling a 65-32 record and 3.33 ERA from 2008-11. He topped the 200-inning mark for three straight years and struck out 225 batters in both '09 and '10.

But 2012 has been a different story for Lester and the frustration showed in the locker room after the game.

"I have to keep executing and doing the same thing," he said. "I've been saying that for every interview. It seems like it's getting redundant."

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling. 

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'


Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."