Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crisp dealt to Royals for Ramirez

Ramon Ramirez, the righthanded relief pitcher the Red Sox acquired from the Kansas City Royals this morning for center fielder Coco Crisp, might be a mystery to Boston fans right now. But if general manager Theo Epstein proves correct, the unheralded but remarkably effective 27-year-old will make a name for himself here soon enough.

"In Ramirez, we believe we've acquired a young, controllable reliever that can really help our bullpen," Epstein said during a conference call this afternoon to discuss the deal.

"He has a plus fastball, 92 to 95 miles per hour, and an outstanding power changeup. A lot of people think it's a split, it's actually a changeup, 87 to 88. That's a swing-and-miss pitch for him against lefthanded and righthanded hitters, and a pretty good slider. He's very quietly had a tremendous amount of success in the major leagues over the last two seasons. We were looking for that type of upgrade to add to our bullpen."

Ramirez (pictured) is coming off a quietly excellent 2008 season, having posted a 2.64 ERA in 71.2 innings while striking out 70. He allowed just two home runs, and held righthanders to a .153 average in 137 at-bats, the lowest in the AL and third in majors among pitchers with at least 50 games. Only the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol (.103) and Philadelphia’s Brad Lidge (.105) ranked higher. In his career, Ramirez has held righties to a .198 clip with an OPS of .586. He was particularly effective in September, allowing just one earned run and four hits in 9.2 innings (0.93 ERA).

Ramirez, who has little more than a year of service time and is not yet arbitration eligible, made $397,000 last season, a bargain given his production. Should he pitch as well with the Red Sox, his arrival will have another benefit -- allowing the club to use versatile Justin Masterson as a starter if it so chooses.

"[Ramirez] does give us the flexibility to start Masterson if that does end up being what we feel is in the best interests of the ball club," Epstein said. "[Both dominate righties], in that way Ramirez could potentially replace Masterson in the 'pen. It's not easy to find a [cost-controlled] reliever with a good track record and plus stuff."

Ramirez, who originally signed with the Texas Rangers as an outfielder at age 15 in 1996, debuted in the majors in 2006 with the Colorado Rockies after he was acquired from the Yankees for pitcher Shaun Chacon. He posted a 3.46 ERA in 67.2 innings over 61 appearances as a Rockies rookie, and did not allow a run in his first 15.1 innings.

He struggled with an elbow injury in '07, going 2-2 with an 8.31 ERA in 22 games. He was not on the Rockies' World Series roster against the Red Sox, but said this afternoon that he is looking forward to coming to Boston now.
"I feel fine about it because I realize baseball is a business and every team tries to do the best for their organization," Ramirez told's Ian Browne through an interpreter on a telephone call. "If I'm going to Boston, I'm going happily and I will work as hard as I worked for Kansas City."

For Crisp, 29, it was the end of a three-year run with the Red Sox, one that didn't quite live up to expectations after he was acquired in a deal that sent catcher Kelly Shoppach, among others, to the Cleveland Indians after the 2005 season.

"I think when we acquired Coco, he was coming of an age 25 season in which he posted impressive numbers," Epstein said, while emphasizing how impressive Crisp's defense became in 2007. "For whatever reasons, those trend lines didn't continue with us. Injuries played a factor and the ballpark played a factor. Right field took a lot of home runs away from Coco [at Fenway]. He didn't necessarily make all the [offensive] strikes that we had hoped for."

Crisp did have arguably his best season in Boston in 2008, batting .283 -- .315 in the second half -- with seven homers, 41 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 361 at-bats. He shared the job in center field with rookie Jacoby Ellsbury during the regular season, starting 98 games. Crisp started five games in the American League Championship Series loss to the Rays, batting .450 and delivering a memorable game-tying hit in Game 5 as the Red Sox rallied from a 7-0 deficit.

Trading Crisp clears roughly $6 million in payroll this season, according to Epstein. The outfielder will earn $5.7 million in 2009, with a club option for 2010 for $8 million or a $500,000 buyout.

It's likely that the Red Sox will now be looking outside the organization for a righthanded-hitting fourth outfielder. Rocco Baldelli, the Rhode Island native and former Tampa Bay Ray, might be one possibility.

The deal was first reported this morning on Kansas City sports radio station WHB 810 by Brian McRae, a former Royals outfielder who is a part owner of the station.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LSU-Ole Miss Winner to Take Home 'Magnolia Bowl' Trophy

LSU will host the first “Magnolia Bowl” rivalry game with Ole Miss on Saturday in Tiger Stadium, a name determined by the student bodies from both schools.

The student body of each school started discussing the idea of an official rivalry game about a year ago. The two student bodies held a “Name that Rivalry” campaign for students to provide input on the name via text messaging. The Ole Miss and LSU student governments then voted in their respective Student Senates to name the rivalry the “Magnolia Bowl.” The two student bodies have since worked together to create a “Magnolia Bowl” trophy and logo.

The trophy was designed by LSU senior sculpture major Evan Trapp with input from the leaders of the two student bodies. The trophy is carved from bass wood with a stained finish. The game’s logo will be emblazoned on the base, as will all of the scores following the Nov. 22 game. The top of the base will have four wood-carved leaves cradling a bronze-cast magnolia flower.

The logo was designed by Cultigraphic Creative located in Mississippi. The student body leaders of Ole Miss played a major role in its development and finalization. The logo contains the LSU, Ole Miss, and SEC logos as well as the magnolia flower. The two schools will use this logo as the official Magnolia Bowl Logo.

The trophy and all parties involved will be introduced on the field before the game. The student body president of the winning school will then present the trophy to their team following the game.

Major parties involved on the LSU side include past student body vice-president Josh King, past executive staff member Corey Weber, Sculptor Evan Trapp, Student Body President Colorado Robertson and Student Government Athletic Director Andrew Remson.

Pedroia in Contention for MVP

In the course of just two seasons, Dustin Pedroia has built himself an impressive portfolio of big hits, dazzling defensive grabs and, yes, awards for his accomplishments.
But on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, when the results of the American League Most Valuable Player Award are announced, the second baseman of the Boston Red Sox might get what would qualify as his crowning achievement.

In 2007, Pedroia was named the AL Rookie of the Year just weeks after celebrating a World Series championship. Following an even stronger 2008, Pedroia won the Gold Glove Award and earned a spot on the AL Silver Slugger team.

Now, it's on to the race for MVP, an award no Red Sox player has won since Mo Vaughn in 1995.

Pedroia, 25, is considered a top candidate in what is expected to be a tight race.

Others who are in the running? First baseman Justin Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer, the dynamic duo from the Twins, are contenders. So is Josh Hamilton, the feel-good story of the season and highly productive outfielder for the Rangers. Francisco Rodriguez, the closer who saved a record 62 games this season for the Angels, is another who could do well in the balloting.

And, of course, don't forget about Pedroia's friend and teammate, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. The right-handed hitter had breakout numbers (.312 average, 29 homers, 115 RBIs).

For the Red Sox, who lost production in different ways (David Ortiz's seven-week injury, Mike Lowell's multiple injuries, Jason Varitek's decline, the trade of Manny Ramirez), Pedroia and Youkilis were the hard-hitting constants for a team that won 95 games and reached the postseason for the fifth time in six years.

The one thing that will probably help Pedroia most in the MVP race is the way he lit up the leader board.

With 213 hits, Pedroia tied Ichiro Suzuki for the Major League lead. His 54 doubles led the Majors. He led the American League in runs (118) and multihit games (61).

Backed by a .326 average, Pedroia lost the batting title by just four points to Mauer. He finished fourth in total bases and seventh in extra-base hits.

Pedroia isn't much for talking about his candidacy for awards.

"Obviously it was a great season, but personal goals, I'm not big into those," Pedroia said earlier this month. "I'd rather have the feeling after '07 than after '08. The biggest thing for me right now is to focus on 2009 and get my body back together and ready for that long season."

While Pedroia is an elite table-setter, he also demonstrated unexpected thump, belting 17 homers and collecting 82 RBIs. He was a presence on the bases as well, stealing 20 bases.

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In short, there basically wasn't anything Pedroia didn't do for the Red Sox.

"The guy carried this team for, I would say, since Day 1 all the way to the end," Ortiz recently said of Pedroia.

Though attitude can't be quantified, Pedroia established himself as an infectious leader in the clubhouse, mixing in humor and intensity.

"He's the team's leader right now," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of Pedroia in August. "People take him for granted. He's cocky, got toughness and got everything going for him."

By Tuesday afternoon, Pedroia could have even more going for him. All he'll need to do is clear a spot in his trophy case.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Varitek tops Red Sox's offseason list

The two weeks of exclusivity the Red Sox had with Jason Varitek, their catcher of the last decade-plus, has passed. Varitek, just like every other free agent in Major League Baseball, is now eligible to sign with all 30 teams.
As the clock struck midnight ET and Thursday turned to Friday, free agency officially began.

Varitek is clearly a front-burner issue for the Red Sox. Catching depth is not strong throughout Major League Baseball. Complicating the situation is that Varitek, who will be 37 in April, is coming off what is easily the worst offensive season of his career.

"He's an important part of the organization -- there's no doubt about that," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said recently. "Obviously, he's coming off a year that wasn't his best, but he's important nonetheless. Now he's a free agent and we'll be talking to him. We have an obligation to explore all our options. We do that with every position."

Catching just happens to be a difficult one to fill.

"There's not a lot of elite catching out there," Epstein said. "But at the same time, that changes the standards for what you're looking for. What we like to do is be league average at every position and then be way above league average at as many positions as we can. We try to have no weak links and be at least league average at every position. So with the state of catching, what is league average? It's well documented that there's not a lot of elite catching out there, but we'll figure it out."

Epstein did have some initial meetings at the General Managers Meetings with Scott Boras, who represents Varitek. It isn't known if offers were exchanged.

One sticking point could be length, with the Red Sox preferring a shorter-term deal than Varitek might be willing to accept.

The other free agents from the Red Sox are Mike Timlin, Curt Schilling, Bartolo Colon, Sean Casey, Alex Cora, Mark Kotsay, Paul Byrd and David Ross.

Aside from Varitek, the Red Sox might have interest in bringing back Casey and Cora, two veteran bench players.

Timlin doesn't figure into the team's plans for next season and Schilling will either retire or pitch a partial season. Kotsay and Byrd are likely to explore opportunities to play more vital roles for other teams.

Epstein will also spend plenty of time in the next few weeks exploring free agents from outside the organization. Starting pitching could be of particular interest to the Red Sox, and there is a lot of it on the market.

Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets are just some of the names that could make a significant impact on a rotation.

Other than that, it's unclear which areas Boston will pursue when it comes to free agency. The Red Sox are in a luxurious spot in that they have starting players under contract at every position and in some cases -- shortstop and center field -- they have two potential starters.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz recently expressed the desire for his team to add another big bat. The most intriguing free agent in that regard is first baseman Mark Teixeira. But it's unclear if he is a fit for the Red Sox, given that Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell currently man the corners.

Hornets Lose to Rockets in Houston

During the Hornets’ 3-0 start to the season, they racked up a league-best average of 107 points per game, while defeating Golden State, Phoenix and Cleveland. Six games later, the NBA’s premier offensive attack of Week 1 of the regular season has become a major weakness.
The Hornets were held under 90 points for the fifth time in their last sixth games, resulting in a wire-to-wire Rockets victory. Houston (6-4) moved a half game ahead of New Orleans (5-4), into first place in the Southwest Division.
Why have the Hornets experienced such a drastic downturn in their offensive production? The player and ball movement have stagnated at times, but simply put, we're also seeing several Hornets shoot poorly and miss open shots that they normally make. New Orleans will have three days of practice to try to make adjustments prior to Wednesday's home game vs. Sacramento. In the meantime, let's take a look at how individual Hornets have fared in the shooting department through the first nine games:
Chris Paul: He’s shooting exactly 50 percent from the field (61-for-122) after his 2-for-10 outing at Houston. Fifty percent is obviously outstanding for any guard, but especially a point guard. The only PGs who consistently shoot this well are Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Jose Calderon.
Morris Peterson: He’s not taking as big of a chunk of his attempts from three-point range in comparison to last season. Overall, he’s shooting 42 percent from the field, and 30 percent from three-point range. He’s a 37 percent career three-point shooter.
Peja Stojakovic: His 1-for-5 in Houston continued a recent shooting slump. For the season, he’s at 37 percent, almost 10 percent below his career number.
David West: A bit below his norm, shooting 46 percent thus far. His jumper has been somewhat inconsistent. West shot 51, 48 and 48 percent over the past three full seasons, respectively.
Tyson Chandler: Hornets TV analyst Gil McGregor noted Saturday that opponents seem to be focusing more on preventing the “Crescent City Connection” alley oop, a play that resulted in countless dunks for Chandler last season. It was back in Houston, though, three times. Chandler is always going to shoot a high percentage based on the close-range nature of his attempts, and is at 62.5 percent right now.
James Posey: The team’s overall dip in shooting hasn’t affected the free-agent pickup. He’s made numerous big shots in the fourth quarter. He’s been the team’s best three-point shooter, just under 50 percent.
Rasual Butler: Saturday’s 1-for-7 was a rarity for Butler, who has been an excellent marksman off the bench and in fourth quarters. He’s 10-for-23 from three-point range (43 percent).
Hilton Armstrong: He’s 12-for-28 (43 percent). Shot 54 percent as a rookie and 45 percent last season.
Devin Brown: Went 5-for-10 in Houston and played a second straight solid game at backup point guard. He was 5-for-20 from the field prior to Saturday, though, so his season rate is still low (33 percent).
Julian Wright: Played double-digit minutes again Saturday, this time logging 17. He’s 5-for-14 overall in five appearances.
Mike James: Was 8-for-25 (32 percent) from field prior to being bumped out of rotation by Brown on Friday vs. Portland.
Melvin Ely: Has only played in two games and is 4-for-9.

Obviously nine games is an extremely small sample. Making sweeping judgments on anything through the equivalent of 10 percent of the season doesn't make sense. Still, if you go through the list, you can begin to see why the Hornets are not producing offensively the way they did in 2007-08, at least to this stage.
The good news is that veteran players tend to return to their career norms as the season progresses. For several New Orleans players, you have to believe they will begin to shoot the ball much better, based on their track records.

Rebs Crush UlaMo

- Jevan Snead threw three touchdowns and added two rushing scores on Saturday as Ole Miss became bowl eligible for the first time since 2003 with a 59-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe. It was the Rebels' greatest margin of victory since a 69-7 win over Southern Miss in 1969.
Ole Miss (6-4) built a 38-0 halftime lead after scoring on six of seven possessions. The first half offensive outburst was the most productive since a 40-0 halftime lead against Memphis in 1980.

Snead was 6-of-12 for 170 yards and rushed three times for 11 yards to account for five touchdowns. Cordera Eason added 107 yards in 14 carries as the Rebels finished with 520 yards, 341 in the first half, in total offense.

ULM (3-8) managed to cross midfield only twice and was limited to 131 yards in total offense

Ole Miss covered 72, 54, 37, 31 and 94 yards on the first half touchdown series. Snead had scoring passes of 22 and 23 yards to Gerald Harris and Mike Wallace, between touchdown runs of 17 and 22 yards by Eason and Dexter McCluster.

Snead capped the first half with a 1-yard scoring run before connecting on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Davis and a 9-yard scoring run for a 52-0 lead with 5:54 left in the third period. Davis added a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth period.

Defense, Lee Key Record Comeback by No. 19 LSU, 40-31

Never before in LSU football history has a comeback of such magnitude been witnessed. What looked to be the lowest moment of the 2008 season turned into the highest, as LSU came from four touchdowns down to defeat upstart Troy, 40-31, on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

A miserable first-half performance by the Tigers on both sides of the ball allowed Troy (6-4) to take a 24-3 halftime lead. The Trojans then scored on their first drive of the second half and led 31-3 until the waning minutes of the third quarter.

LSU (7-3), coming off a heartbreaking defeat to No. 1 Alabama, was beaten in every aspect of the game in the opening 40-plus minutes.

Then, those who were left in Tiger Stadium witnessed the largest comeback in school history -- and a majority of those in attendance on the cool fall evening were at home on their couch when it happened. Though records were only available from the modern era of LSU football (since 1958), the previous record was 21 points most recently against Ole Miss in 1977 (trailed 21-0 in second quarter).

The Tigers scored 37 points in the game's final 16:26 to stun Troy.

LSU's maligned starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee, shook off a dismal first half to lead his team to victory.

Without the efforts of the LSU defense – which held Troy without a first down for six-straight drives in the second half – Lee may have been held most accountable for an unexpected loss.

After allowing a 79-yard scoring drive to start the second half, LSU gave up only 46 yards on 30 plays for the duration.

Lee overcame another interception for a touchdown to complete 18-of-26 second-half passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. For the game, he was 20-of-34 passing for 216 yards.

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell had career-bests of 12 catches for 126 yards with a touchdown. Terrance Toliver added 54 yards on four catches.

Lee's backup, freshman Jordan Jefferson, saw spot duty and completed 1-of-6 passes in the first half. Jefferson also ran for LSU's first touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 3 late in the third quarter. He had seven runs for 17 yards.

Running back Charles Scott paved the way on the ground for LSU, running 24 times for 90 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He also eclipsed the 1,000-yard total for the season (1,071).

Troy quarterback Levi Brown threw the ball more than any player in Tiger Stadium history, completing 34-of-72 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. His only interception deep in his own territory allowed the Tigers score a field goal and cut the lead to 31-27.

Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan led Troy with 10 receptions for 63 yards, while Kennard Burton added 74 yards on five catches. Running back DuJuan Harris caught four passes out of the backfield including a touchdown. Harris led the Trojans with 65 yards on 14 carries.

Troy couldn't have asked for a better first half, forcing LSU to punt on the opening drive before scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions. The Trojans added a field goal and an interception for a touchdown to take a 24-3 halftime lead.

The Trojans marched 88 yards on 16 plays -- including 15 passes -- on their opening possession. Troy used mostly five-wide receiver formations to spread the Tigers defense, meeting little resistance along the way. A 10-yard catch by Jernigan on third-and-10 at the LSU 17 setup a 7-yard touchdown reception by Patrick Cherry.

LSU was able come away with its first points on the next drive, a career-long 52-yard field goal by Colt David which was setup by a 16-yard run by Scott into Troy territory.

The Tigers trailed 7-3 with 6:16 left in the first quarter.

Troy's continued its passing attack on its second drive, gashing the LSU defense for double-digit gains and moving to LSU's side of the field. Again, LSU had a chance to stop the Trojans on third-and-10 at the LSU 38, but Troy came up with a 35-yard catch by Austin Silvoy. An LSU substitution infraction moved the ball to the 1, allowing Kennard Burton to take an end-around for a touchdown.

Troy led 14-3 with 4:00 left in the first quarter.

After the teams traded punts on its next three possessions, Troy again began its offensive march from its 42. The Trojans converted three third downs on the drive but were unable to punch it into the Tigers endzone. A 22-yard field goal by Sam Glusman pushed the Troy lead to 17-3 with 10:08 left in the first half.

Lee's seventh interception for a touchdown gave Troy a 24-3 lead, as Terence Moore tipped a pass in the air and came down with it. He ran 22 yards untouched for a touchdown with 6:46 left in the half.

After failing to convert on fourth-and-8 from its 38 late in the half, LSU got a second chance at cutting into the lead when defensive tackle Drake Nevis forced and recovered a fumble in Troy territory.

However, the Tigers moved only nine yards in three plays, and were unable to attempt a 42-yard field goal when the snap was fumbled by punter Brady Dalfrey as time expired.

LSU trailed 24-3 at the half.

Troy's first drive of the second half was no different. An efficient 10-play, 79-yard drive was punctuated with an 8-yard touchdown catch by Harris out of the back field.

Troy led 31-3 with 11:13 left in the third quarter.

That's when things changed for the Tigers. Everything that had gone wrong for LSU went right and vise versa for Troy.

Though LSU's next drive ended on downs, the Tigers showed life on offense for the first time. Troy went three-and-out and punted, giving the Tigers possession at their 34.

Needing to pass to get back into the ballgame, Lee guided the Tigers on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a fourth-and-3 touchdown run by Jefferson.

With 1:26 left in the third quarter, the comeback was on. LSU trailed 31-10.

Another three-and-out by Troy gave LSU another chance to get its offense on the field. This time, the Tigers wasted no time getting back into the endzone. After a 9-yard completion to Byrd, Lee found Toliver for 33 yards to the Troy 33. Then came the big strike LSU needed, a 33-yard catch by LaFell who got behind the defense.

The lead was reduced to 14, 31-17, only 2:26 later with 14 minutes to play.

After a 38-yard kickoff return, Troy started at LSU's 49 and looked to regain momentum that was clearly lost. However, faced with a fourth-and-1 at the 40, the Trojans elected to go for the first down rather than punt and pin LSU deep.

The gamble failed and the Tigers offense returned for another scoring drive.

Lee again went to the air, finding Toliver for 9 yards and Dickson for 6. Dickson was taken down by his facemask, giving LSU 15 yards to the Troy 30. After consecutive completions of 6 and 15 yards to LaFell, the Tigers used their ground game to pound the final nine yards. Fullback Quinn Johnson scored from the 1 to cut the deficit to a touchdown, 31-24.

Troy continued its wide-open passing offense, giving LSU opportunities slow the game and stop the clock often.

An interception at the Troy 21-yard line by LSU nickel back Chad Jones gave the Tigers a perfect opportunity to tie the game. However, three plays yielded only four yards and the Tigers settled for a 27-yard field goal by David.

LSU still trailed, 31-27, with 7:51 to play.

With its defense rolling, LSU got the ball back quickly but three plays went for no yards. However, good fortune shined on the Tigers when Dalfrey's short punt hit Troy's Jorrick Calvin in the leg and was recovered by LSU safety Danny McCray at the Troy 20.

Four plays later, Scott scored from the 4-yard line to give LSU an improbable lead, 33-31. David's point after touchdown was missed to the right, bringing a moan from the chilled crowd.

LSU's defense stopped Troy without a first down for the sixth-straight drive, as the Trojans ' fourth-and-14 pass attempt fell incomplete with 3:35 to play.

Scott opened the drive with a 30-yard run to the Troy 4-yard line. Three plays later, Johnson scored his second touchdown from a yard out for the final margin.

The announced crowd was 92,103.

LSU returns to action on Saturday, Nov. 22, when Ole Miss comes to Baton Rouge for the Tigers’ final home game.