Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Red Sox beat Lee to punch playoff ticket

With the thirst for postseason champagne lingering around the Red Sox for a second straight night, not even overwhelming American League Cy Young Award favorite Cliff Lee was going to prevent the corks from popping.
The Red Sox truly earned their 5-4 victory in this Tuesday night clinch contest against the Indians, getting to the normally dominant Lee for two runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth.

Now that they've solidified their fifth postseason berth in the past six years, the Red Sox can go about the business of trying to become Major League Baseball's first repeat World Series champions since the 2000 Yankees.

Though the Red Sox are still in contention for the American League East title, their most likely entry into the playoffs will be as the Wild Card winner, which would earn them a AL Division Series matchup with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a best-of-five set that would start in Anaheim on Oct. 1 or 2.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, the only player to be on Boston's past eight postseason entries dating back to 1995, earned the win, allowing six hits and four runs (all of which were scored in the fifth inning) over six innings. Wakefield walked one and struck out six.

Fittingly, Kevin Youkilis (two-run homer in the fourth) and Dustin Pedroia (two-run double in the fifth) provided two of the biggest hits of the night. They've been Boston's most consistent offensive players all season.

And it was equally appropriate that Jason Bay, who has been so productive since coming over in the trade for Manny Ramirez on July 31, drove in the go-ahead run, a two-out RBI single up the middle in the fifth.

Clinging to a 5-4 lead after reliever Manny Declarmen loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to lefty Hideki Okajima to face Victor Martinez. And Okajima, amid a tense, eight-pitch at-bat, got Martinez to pop a 3-2 pitch to Youkilis to end the threat.

Jonathan Papelbon came on to escape a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth. He then navigated the ninth for save No. 41, giving the Fenway faithful good reason to erupt.

The Red Sox have five games left in the regular season.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hornets Picked to Tie for First in West

As part of Hornets.com’s preview of the 2008-09 season, we continue our look at what several of the major preseason publications are writing about the team. Today we review Lindy’s projections and opinions.
The preseason preview from Lindy’s uses a mathematical formula to project the finishes of each NBA division. As unlikely as this sounds - and it’s even more far-fetched that it would actually happen - Lindy’s predicts a four-way tie in the Southwest Division between Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and San Antonio. Here is more from the magazine on the 2008-09 Hornets:

On the Hornets’ overall outlook:
“The New Orleans Hornets were accused of sneaking up on everybody, but what they did last season wasn’t a surprise to them. They knew if they were healthy, they wouldn’t just make the playoffs, they would bust through the door. Now making the playoffs is no longer enough for the Hornets. Never mind the p-word, the c-word is now part of the Hornets’ venacular - as in championship.
“ ‘It’s not something we run away from,’ said general manager Jeff Bower, who has done a masterful job in building one of the most exciting and talented teams in the league. ‘I think that’s the next step for us as players and an organization.'
“Last season, the Hornets were a smash hit throughout the NBA, but especially back home in New Orleans. The fans embraced the Hornets and their style of play, which was easy to do.
“The Hornets tasted victory and bitter defeat all in one magical season. Getting the bitter taste out of their mouths should push this young group. Having James Posey around to show them what it takes to win in the postseason should be invaluable.”

On Byron Scott:
“Scott finally won the Coach of the Year award that escaped him when he guided the Nets to a franchise-best 52 wins during the 2001-02 season. Scott obviously is doing something right to have led two teams to their best records ever. Everything fell into place for Scott last year. His team was healthy and it played his style of exciting offensive basketball while also being one of the best defensive teams in the league.”

On David West:
“David West proved last season he should be considered among the game’s best power forwards. He earned the first of what should be many All-Star berths. For the fifth straight year, West increased his scoring and rebounding numbers. He averaged 20.6 points and 8.9 rebounds. If he can average 20 and 10, West truly will be an elite power forward. No one doubts he can or is willing to work to put up those numbers and be in that class.”

On James Posey:
“The Hornets learned a valuable lesson at home (in Game 7) against the (Spurs). Then two months later, the Hornets signed someone who could help them if they’re in that situation again and could teach them something about winning big games, having won so many. (Posey) could be the missing piece to the puzzle for this young group, many of whom enjoyed success for the first time as pros last season.
“Posey is a good three-point shooter, but his strength is defending multiple positions and being able to make big plays.
“ ‘We hit a home run (by signing) Mr. Posey,” Byron Scott said. “It obviously puts us a step closer to our ultimate goal, which is winning a championship, and that is what he wants to do. He’s done it with two different organizations, and hopefully we can get the trifecta.”
Posted by Hornets.com at 10:29 AM 0 comments
Monday, September 15, 2008
Hornets second in ESPN.com NBA 2009 title poll
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com
ESPN.com recently asked 25 of its experts to predict which team will win the 2009 NBA championship. The leading selection, the Los Angeles Lakers, was relatively expected, collecting 12 votes. The Hornets (6 votes) were a surprise runner-up in the poll, however, earning more mentions than even the defending champion Boston Celtics (4 votes).
“The top challenger in our voting will surprise some: the up-and-coming New Orleans Hornets, not the Boston Celtics,” wrote ESPN.com. Later in the article, the website said the Hornets have a shot to win it all if these three things occur:
• "Newly acquired James Posey plays tight D and hits clutch 3s like he did in Miami and Boston."
• "Chris Paul improves on his MVP-worthy season from a year ago."
• "The young squad learned some valuable lessons during its impressive postseason run."
Posted by Hornets.com at 4:16 PM 1 comments
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Ask Chris Paul continues with Offseason: Part 2
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com
When I came up with the idea during the summer of 2006 to begin our “Ask Chris Paul” feature on Hornets.com, the 6-foot guard had just wrapped up his 2005-06 NBA Rookie of the Year campaign. He was a relatively popular and well-known player at that point, but he had not yet achieved household-name status. When the Hornets' PR staff approached Chris and his agent about the idea, they immediately agreed to do it.
Two years later, he’s been an NBA All-Star, a runner-up in the league’s MVP voting and an Olympic gold medalist. His jersey is in the top 10 of uniform sales among all NBA players.
The most recent edition of “Ask Chris Paul” is now on the site (part 1 of this offseason appeared recently; there will be a part 3 coming soon). He has thoroughly enjoyed getting a chance to interact with fans and field questions from visitors to Hornets.com.
Multiple people have asked me recently about the feature, so I wanted to provide a few brief pieces of information that might help you get the question(s) you submit chosen by Hornets.com. We receive a large number of questions to jime@hornets.com on a weekly basis – including a huge upswing in queries from citizens of China after Chris and the Redeem Team’s visit there – so to stand out, try to be as creative as possible. Generally speaking, the more unique your question, the better chance it will be selected and not duplicated by another fan.
One aspect of getting to see the questions that has been interesting to me is how many come from shorter-stature high school basketball players. Many kids want to know what tips and secrets CP3 might have to excel on the court, despite being a smaller player. We’ve included several of those lately, but also excluded many others simply because they were redundant to what someone else had already asked.
We’ll soon be sorting through the hundreds of e-mails that have been sent over the past few weeks. We’ll try to catch up with Chris for interviews during training camp and get several more editions of “Ask Chris Paul” on the site after the regular season tips off on Oct. 29.
To ask Chris Paul a question, send an e-mail to jime@hornets.com. Please include your full name and hometown. Also please include "Ask Chris Paul" in the subject of your e-mail.
Posted by Hornets.com at 1:17 PM 0 comments
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Multitaskers. That's what the defending World Series Red Sox are forced to be in this final week of the regular season.
Though they are still one win or Yankees' loss from officially qualifying for the postseason, the Red Sox will get there -- that much is certain.

Sure, the Red Sox will take some time to celebrate their berth into October once they officially secure it on Monday night against the Indians, or perhaps later in the week.

But there is also the task of winning the American League East.

That goal is still within reach, as the Red Sox -- with seven games left, all at home -- are 1 1/2 games behind the Rays.

If Boston can win the division, it would open the postseason at home against the champion of the American League Central. As the Wild Card, the Red Sox would have to start at Anaheim against an Angels' team that, at least on paper, might be the best in the game.

"Absolutely," said Jason Varitek when asked if finishing first remains a priority. "We really had to win [Sunday] to put ourselves in the right spot for the rest of the week. We've got a lot of fun baseball ahead of us."

What will the Red Sox have to do in order to win the division against a Tampa Bay team that will beat them out in any tiebreaker?

If the Red Sox run the table over the last seven games, Tampa Bay would have to go 5-3 in their last eight games. If Boston goes 6-1, the Rays would have to go 4-4. A 5-2 finish by the Sox means that Tampa Bay would have to lose five out of eight. Tampa Bay has four games at Baltimore and four more at Detroit to finish its season.

You get the picture. It won't be easy for the Red Sox to win the East.

That's why the Red Sox will remain mindful of their other goal, which is to get to the postseason in one piece.

Red Sox Pitching Probables

vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett (12-9, 3.96) vs. Zach Jackson (0-3, 6.35)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Tim Wakefield (9-11, 4.18) vs. Cliff Lee (22-2, 2.41)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Paul Byrd (11-12, 4.53) vs. Fausto Carmona (8-7, 5.19)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Jon Lester (15-6, 3.26) vs. Jeremy Sowers (4-8, 5.48)


vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-2, 2.80) vs. Andy Pettitte (14-14, 4.54)


vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett (12-9, 3.96) vs. TBA


vs. Yankees, 1:35 p.m. ET

Tim Wakefield (9-11, 4.18) vs. Mike Mussina (18-9, 3.57)

Third baseman Mike Lowell has been hindered badly of late with a partial tear of the labrum in his right hip. Right fielder J.D. Drew hasn't played since Aug. 17 because of ongoing back woes.

So aside from winning baseball games, the Red Sox would love to get both of those players healthy enough to contribute in the playoffs.

"I think it will be a real interesting week," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "As far as health goes, I think we'll do what we need to do to make sure guys are healthy. Again, just try to mix in the production part along with it. We'll just do the best we can."

The final homestand of the season starts with four games against the Cleveland Indians and finishes with three against the Yankees.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the Red Sox will have in any of those games will come Tuesday night, when overwhelming Cy Young Award favorite Cliff Lee takes the mound. All Lee has done in his 30 starts this season is go 22-2 with a 2.41 ERA.

As far as Boston's pitching goes, Francona has things lined up exactly how he wants them. When Francona and pitching coach John Farrell plotted the alignment a few weeks back, they did it with the idea that they could be prepping for the playoffs and trying to win the division at the same time.

Ace Josh Beckett will kick things off on Monday against the Indians, followed by Tim Wakefield on Tuesday, Paul Byrd on Wednesday and Jon Lester on Thursday. Daisuke Matsuzaka will go after his 19th win on Friday, followed by Beckett on Saturday and Wakefield in Sunday's regular-season finale.

"We have it set up how we have it set up for a reason," Francona said. "I guess we reserve the right to make changes if we want to. I don't anticipate doing that unless, again, a health issue. There's a reason we did it like we did it and I think we're comfortable. We're more apt to maybe short a guy than change the days. But, if we decide to make a change, we can always do that, but I don't think so."

Instead of thinking too deeply about what is at stake, Francona merely wants his team to keep the same tunnel vision they've had for the last few weeks.

"As a team, we all work hard and we're all here for the same goal -- to win," said Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "When you have guys all on the same page that want to win, you're going to have a pretty successful team."

Hamilton leads Vanderbilt to 4-0 with 23-17 win

Ryan Hamilton tied a school record with three interceptions, scored a touchdown on an interception return and saved a score with a goal-line tackle to help Vanderbilt beat Mississippi 23-17 on Saturday.

The Commodores intercepted four of Jevan Snead's passes to put themselves in position to be ranked for the first time since 1984 by surviving an early and odd Rebels scoring flurry. Vanderbilt was one spot out of the Top 25 entering the week and is 4-0 for just the fourth time since World War II.

But the Commodores (2-0 Southeastern Conference) needed a pair of goal-line stands and a final interception as time expired to win.

The Rebels (2-2, 0-1) appeared as if they might run away early after forcing a fumble deep in Vanderbilt territory with a 10-0 lead. But Hamilton stepped in front of Snead's pass and returned it 79 yards for a score.

His second interception of Snead and 23-yard return helped set up a field goal that rallied Vanderbilt to a 17-17 halftime tie. The Commodores could only manage two more Bryant Hahnfeldt field goals in the second half, but Hamilton and the defense made it stand up.

Hamilton made a crucial tackle on Ole Miss' first series of the second half, when he caught running back Cordera Eason from behind on fourth-and-inches at the goal line. Hamilton later recovered a fumble on a punt return to negate another Ole Miss drive and finished the game off with a pick on Snead's pass around the Vanderbilt 10.

Hamilton also recovered a fumble, but wasn't the only playmaker on the Commodores defense. Reshard Langford killed another drive with a bobbling interception of Snead at midfield, then Chris Marve finished off another Rebels' goal-line chance for a rally when he forced Dexter McCluster to fumble into the end zone. D.J. Moore fell on the loose ball with 2:40 left.

If ranked Sunday, the Commodores will be the sixth SEC team in the poll and the eighth to be ranked at some point this season. Vanderbilt was ranked as high as 19th in 1984 after starting 4-0.

Ole Miss had plenty of chances to pick up the program's 600th victory after an early fumble return by Peria Jerry and a kickoff return by Mike Wallace put the Rebels up 17-7. But six turnovers, poor play from an out-of-sync Snead, who finished 12-of-25 for 184 yards in his first bad game, and seven penalties for 82 yards sent them to their ninth straight SEC loss and 13th in the last 14 games.

Hahnfeldt tied a career high with three field goals, hitting from 34, 31 and 40 yards.

Lafell Catch Seals LSU Victory over Auburn

LSU made the final big play, and as usual that's what settled the annual down-to-the-wire clash with Auburn.

This time the winning connection wasn't Flynn-to-Byrd, but Lee-to-LaFell.

Jarrett Lee and Brandon LaFell hooked up on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 left to lift No. 6 LSU to yet another dramatic comeback win over No. 10 Auburn, 26-21 Saturday in an SEC West showdown that once again produced a fantastic finish and wild momentum swings.

The last five meetings have been decided by a collective 19 points in a rivalry that has produced more than drama. The winner has gone to the SEC championship game in six of the last eight seasons.

And last year Matt Flynn's last-second TD pass to Demetrius Byrd helped propel LSU to a national title.

"We expected such a battle when we came here," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I thought they showed great poise. To be tested away and be tested by a very, very capable opponent and answering that test is just what this team needed."

The only major difference in this one was the road team came out on top. The last eight games in the series had gone to the home team. LSU (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) also snapped Auburn's streak of six consecutive victories at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Top 10 teams.

Lee took over for an injured Andrew Hatch in the third quarter and produced a series of big plays to make up for a lousy start for LSU. Lee missed his first five throws, with an interception returned by defensive end Gabe McKenzie for a touchdown.

Auburn (3-1, 1-1) moved to LSU's 47 on the final drive, with help from Rahim Alem's roughing the passer penalty. Alem atoned with a sack of Chris Todd to recoup the 15-yard loss.

Todd's desperation fourth-and-25 pass to Rod Smith came up short of the first down.

Byrd came up big again for LSU. He pulled in a 22-yard halfback pass from Keiland Williams on the final play of the third quarter for a 17-14 lead. Miles said the coaches installed that play in practice this week.

"It just happened to be the right time for that play," said Miles, who also had successfully converted an onside kick after LSU's first TD. "We needed a fast score."

Colt David added a 32-yard field goal with 8:27 left and set LSU's career record for points scored by a kicker.

Todd and Auburn's offense kept the team alive. He hit Robert Dunn for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 6:40 left on third-and-9 to give Auburn a 21-20 lead. It was set up by a 58-yard heave to Tim Hawthorne when Todd rolled left, turned around and saw Hawthorne running free near the right sideline.

Lee, who had been platooning with Hatch, was 4-for-4 on the winning drive for 43 yards.

"We had the ballgame," Tuberville said. "We had the lead, we lost it; we had the lead again, we lost it. We've got a disappointed bunch of guys in the locker room. We felt like the way we played at times, we should have won it. They made a few more plays than we did."

It was the first major test for the defending national champions, who opened with wins over Appalachian State and North Texas.

Once again, LSU passed. And ran, too.

Charles Scott rushed for 132 tackle-breaking yards against an Auburn defense that was virtually untouchable in a 3-2 win at Mississippi State last weekend but appeared to weaken under the 233-pounder's barrage.

LSU had never had a 100-yard rusher at Jordan-Hare.

Lee was 11-for-22 for 182 yards and two touchdowns, including a 39-yarder to Chris Mitchell in the third. LSU gained 284 of its 389 yards in the second half.

"In the first half, receivers were getting open and the offensive line was blocking," Lee said. "I was just making poor decisions. I knew I would get back in and I knew when the opportunity came back, I had to make the right decisions.

"I just felt comfortable out there."

Scott said LSU players at halftime felt they would pull it out.

"I know we had no doubt," he said. "We knew it would be like this, we knew it would be a four-quarter game and we were ready to play."

Todd had his most productive game as Auburn's starter, going 17-for-32 for 250 yards. The junior college transfer was intercepted twice by Chris Hawkins.

"It was real exciting. There's nothing like it," Todd said. "The adrenaline rush, playing on that stage was awesome. You'd like to win, but it came down to the end, and those are the type of games you like to play in."

Auburn's Ben Tate was held to 45 yards on 19 carries. Fellow tailback Brad Lester left with a right leg injury in the third quarter, but Tuberville said he could have returned.

McKenzie had returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 14-3 lead.

Hatch was only 2-for-6 for 16 yards for LSU, but ran for 51 yards. He looked wobbly after his final run and was helped off the field after going to the ground while trying to walk to LSU's sideline.

"We think he'll be fine," Miles said. "He had his neck yanked and it kind of stung."