Red Sox

There's actually no comparison between the disappointing Red Sox and reviled Celtics

There's actually no comparison between the disappointing Red Sox and reviled Celtics

CLEVELAND — In the city where most of our recent basketball seasons inevitably seemed to end at the hands of LeBron James, now is a good time to note what the Red Sox most definitely are *not* — last year's Celtics.

It's an easy comparison between two underachieving title contenders with superstar young coaches who waited all year for runs that never came, losing their fans in the process.

But that's also where the comparison ends, because for all their flaws, the Red Sox do not belong in the same sentence as the 2018-19 C's, one of the most loathed Boston teams in years.

On Monday night at Progressive Field, right across the street from the Q, the Red Sox dropped a 6-5 walkoff to the high-flying Indians in another crusher. They erased a 5-1 deficit to force extra innings with two outs in the ninth. Then they lost anyway with one swing from Carlos Santana. This just isn't their year and they know it.

"They're the Celtics!" more than one talking head has announced since the 3-9 start, but the comparison simply does not hold.

Let's start with the obvious. The Red Sox are defending champions. They thus had far less to prove than the Celtics, who haven't won anything since 2008 and choked on their mantle of prohibitive Eastern Conference favorites. We knew the Red Sox would return to earth. Few of us expected the C's to hit the ground at terminal velocity.

As a result, the emotional response to each team diverges. Rooting for the Red Sox became an exercise in apathy on July 31, when trade-deadline reinforcements never arrived. By the end of basketball season, we were basically hate-watching the Celtics, who filled even Boston's most forgiving fans with rage.

Why the anger? Because the team's best player embodied the worst characteristics in a leader and star. Kyrie Irving came off as selfish, arrogant, entitled, moody, bipolar, and maybe even duplicitous, given his blurred intentions on ever staying in Boston. He constantly blamed others for the team's failures, and when it all came crashing down during four straight embarrassing losses to the Bucks, he was nowhere to be found. It's hard to decide what was worse — watching him close his Celtics career by going 8-for-22, 7-for-22, and 6-for-21 with multiple airballs, or completely surrendering on defense, like someone saving his energy for Brooklyn.

Irving is an all-time Boston sports villain, and no one on the Red Sox comes even close, including prickly left-hander David Price, whose clubhouse influence has waned since his days of jumping Hall of Fame broadcasters on the team plane.

No, the Red Sox' best players happen to be their most likable ones, whether it's shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who was practically in tears following Monday's loss, or slugger Rafael Devers, who basically smiles from sunup to sundown.

Bogaerts and Devers are just part of a homegrown youth brigade that should return the Red Sox to contention next season if they can just figure out their pitching and get ace Chris Sale — who's accountable and cares about his failings in ways that Irving never grasped — back on track. Defending MVP Mookie Betts, future All-Star Andrew Benintendi, and maybe even hard-throwing reliever Darwinzon Hernandez are just a few players providing equal parts promise and performance.

Now compare that to the young talent in green. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier were supposed to augment the veteran core. Instead, they spent most of the season trying to get theirs, with only Brown figuring out his role by the playoffs before Rozier departed during free agency. What does it say about the future that veteran leader Al Horford looked at Tatum and Brown and said, "You know what? Philly sounds nice."

Devers has an MVP ceiling. Tatum does not. Benintendi will make an All-Star team. Brown might have to settle for being a top-50 player.

Young talent is why we believe the Red Sox can rebound. They could easily win another title in 2020. Conversely, young talent is why we're not sure if the Celtics are even a five-seed. The roster reconstruction around All-Star guard Kemba Walker should make them more likable, but they haven't felt farther from a title since Isaiah's second season.

And then there's this: the Celtics turned on each other like the inhabitants of some kind of cannibal island. Irving took constant potshots at his young teammates and even passive-aggressively questioned coach Brad Stevens, who bears some similarities to Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

The Red Sox have stuck together, even as the pitching staff has failed the offense.

"We're all together," Bogaerts said. "I don't think there's any separation or any pointing fingers at anyone. It's just like, oh man, it's rough. It's been like that for a little bit. It's rough, man."

So spare me the lazy comparison. The Celtics quit on their season and couldn't wait to blow it all up. Deep down, the Red Sox know they're cooked, but they'll arrive in Fort Myers next February seeking redemption, and they just might find it.

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Sports world mourns Pete Frates, who died at 34 after battle with ALS

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Sports world mourns Pete Frates, who died at 34 after battle with ALS

Pete Frates' courageous battle with ALS ended Monday.

The former Boston College baseball star has died at age 34, his family confirmed in a statement early Monday afternoon.

Frates was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease in 2012 at the age of 27. Over the next seven years, the Beverly, Mass., native dedicating himself to raising awareness about ALS, most successfully through the "Ice Bucket Challenge," a viral movement in the summer of 2014 that helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for ALS research.

Frates was active on social media and had avid supporters on the Boston sports scene, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz and many more. He also received a custom World Series ring from the Red Sox in 2019 following their 2018 title.

Frates leaves behind his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Lucy.

Frates' death Monday prompted an outpouring of condolences on social media, as teams and prominent sports figures highlighted the legacy he left behind.

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What are Red Sox's offseason plans? We'll start to find out at MLB's Winter Meetings

What are Red Sox's offseason plans? We'll start to find out at MLB's Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO — Baseball's Winter Meetings are underway at the Manchester Grand Hyatt overlooking scenic San Diego Bay, and don't be surprised if the Red Sox kick into gear this week.

Most of the front office and media flew out Sunday afternoon on JetBlue, where malfunctioning TVs kept the 150-odd passengers from watching the Patriots and Chiefs. That just meant CEO Sam Kennedy, GM Brian O'Halloran, and a host of others could work without distraction.

There is decidedly little buzz around the Red Sox at the moment, with most attention focused on the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes. The Yankees and Dodgers have emerged as frontrunners for the former Astros co-ace, with New York reportedly planning to offer him a record $245 million contract that would trump David Price's for the largest ever given to a pitcher.

Some early market developments are working against the suddenly cost-conscious Red Sox, particularly the four-year, $64 million contract infielder Mike Moustakas signed with the Reds that is more than triple what he had been projected to receive by MLB Trade Rumors. While the Reds signed Moustakas to play second, it still makes you wonder why there was no market for J.D. Martinez, who almost certainly would've opted out of his contract had he felt motivated suitors existed.

As a means of comparison, the Moustakas contract is expected to drive up the price on free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, a solid hitter entering his prime at age 27 who's coming off a 58-double season between the Tigers and Cubs. Castellanos is a nice offensive player, but he's nowhere near as impactful as Martinez, and while he's technically a corner outfielder, he's not a particularly good one.

It just reinforces the notion that between David Ortiz and Martinez, the Red Sox have consistently owned the biggest edge in the league at DH, where many clubs still refuse to spend real money.

The other Red Sox question, which we'll put to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom later on Monday, is if the Red Sox can expect to act aggressively or reactively this week. Will they need to let some higher-end pieces fall into place before picking through what's left? Or can they start knocking over some dominoes a little farther down the line?

An offseason thus far marked by uncertainty should start to form some clarity this week, even if it's around the margins. The big stuff — pondering trades for Mookie Betts and/or David Price — won't happen in the next few days unless there's a marked change in baseball's approach to the offseason, which has unfolded at a glacial pace in recent years.

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