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' Phillip Dorsett's impressive streak for a consecutive targets caught

Patriots' Phillip Dorsett's impressive streak for a consecutive targets caught

Phillip Dorsett has been doing everything you want a wide receiver to do to start the season: Catch the ball when it's thrown to you. 

According to Mike Giardi, Dorsett has caught the last 23 passes thrown to him, tied for the eighth-best streak in the NFL since the league started tracking the stat in 2009. 

Over those 23 receptions, Dorsett has 259 yards (11.3 YPC) and three touchdowns, while 134 yards and two of those touchdowns have come this season. Dorsett's streak is also a franchise record for the Patriots, leading the likes of Dion Lewis (19 games), Julian Edelman (18) and Wes Welker (18 and 17). 

Dorsett is well on his way to a breakout season with the Patriots this season, especially after the team released Antonio Brown. Dorsett always presented game-breaking speed and explosiveness on the outside but wasn't able to put it all together.

If he can come into his own, the Patriots' wide receiver position won't need much more help with Dorsett, Edelman, Josh Gordon and N'Keal Harry (once he's healthy).

Dorsett will look to extend his streak in Week 3 against an 0-3 Jets team burdened by the injury bug. The Patriots may have the game wrapped up by halftime, so there might not be a ton of targets to be had on Sunday. 

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How did World Series champions who missed the subsequent postseason respond the year after?

How did World Series champions who missed the subsequent postseason respond the year after?

With a loss to the Rays and an Indians win over the Phillies, the Red Sox were officially eliminated from playoff contention in a season following their World Series championship. 

Boston has won 4 titles in the last 15 years, a mark no other team has matched in the same time frame. But the last two times the Red Sox have won it all, they failed to make it past September the following season. 

After winning the World Series in 2013 with a magical bearded run following the Boston Marathon bombings, the Red Sox finished with a 71-91 record, which was good for last place in the AL East. They followed up 2004's championship with a first-round sweep to the eventual champion White Sox and then fell to the Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2008. 

Fortunately for the Red Sox, it's become pretty common for a World Series hangover to last an entire season after the fact. Boston is now the 10th team since 2000 to miss the postseason after hoisting that World Series trophy. 

Of course, we know what those teams did after they won it all, but what happened the year after they failed to get back? How many bounced back vs completely faded away?

2004 ANGELS

The Angels followed up their first championship in franchise history with a letdown year in 2003. They finished 77-85 and finished third in their division. However, they returned to form in 2004 and took back the AL West crown. The addition of Vladimir Guerrero certainly helped. The 29-year-old superstar won the AL MVP in his first season with the Angels, hitting .337 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI. The Angels would eventually get swept in the ALDS by the eventual champion Red Sox.

2005 MARLINS

The Marlins shocked the world by beating the Yankees in the 2003 Fall Classic, but finished third in the NL East the season after. Things didn't get much better for them in 2005 either. Sure, they had a better record, but they once again fell to third place and would eventually trade Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit and send ace Josh Beckett to the Red Sox. This is probably the path the Red Sox want to avoid. The Marlins have been one of baseball's worst over the last 10 years. 

2007 WHITE SOX

After winning the World Series in 2005, Chicago went 90-72 the following season. A strong showing, but the AL Central was a powerhouse that year. The Tigers and Twins made the postseason over them. The year following, the White Sox went 72-90 and haven't been a real threat in the American League since. 

2008 CARDINALS

St. Louis won its first championship since 1967 in 2006, but missed the playoffs the next two seasons after. Cardinals fans wouldn't be disappointed for long though, as they won another title in 2011 in an epic series with the Rangers. 

2012 GIANTS

Ah, the Giants. Kings of winning a World Series, missing the playoffs and then bouncing back to win another. The Giants missed the postseason after winning it all in 2010, but then came back the following year to beat the Tigers in the World Series. Few will forget Sergio Romo striking out Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to close out the series for San Francisco. 

2014 GIANTS

Look who it is! It's the Giants yet again! The 2014 run was how Madison Bumgarner became one of the best big-game pitchers of all time. He carried the Giants staff on an incredible workload to lift the Giants to their third championship in five years. They're the only team close to the Red Sox' level of success since the turn of the century. 

2015 RED SOX

The Red Sox were terrible in 2014, and while they weren't as bad in 2015, they still finished last in the AL East and below .500. Fortunately they would win the next three straight division titles to go with a World Series in 2018, but sometimes the reload takes a bit longer than you'd want from a team that was able to reach the pinnacle of their profession. Age most certainly played a factor for Boston here. 

2016 GIANTS

Everyone assumed the Giants would bounce back for the fourth time and win another World Series after missing the playoffs in an odd-numbered year. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, and the Giants would miss the playoffs for the second straight season. They have not been back to the postseason since. 

2017 ROYALS

The Royals took down the Mets in 2015 to finally get their World Series championship after falling to the Giants in 2014. The next two season would not be kind to the Royals, where they missed the playoffs both seasons with a record around .500. Kansas City is now one of the worst teams in baseball, but at least they got one. 

2020 RED SOX?

The Red Sox have a lot of questions to answer regarding their roster with Dave Dombrowski officially out as President of Baseball Operations. J.D. Martinez can opt-out of his current deal for a pay raise, and Mookie Betts' extension weighs over the franchise's head too. After a season like 2019, Boston needs to upgrade their pitching staff, but they might not be able to if they want to commit resources to their best players. Boston could be in trouble moving forward. 

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