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Time Out For Sports Talk: Moving Fourth Minus Some Green As Red Sox Heat Up

Todd: Early appearance this week due to the upcoming holiday!  I realize I’m repeating myself from our last column, but it bears repeating.  This has been one of the most newsworthy and surreal weeks in the history of Boston sports, and it has ironically taken place during what is typically one of the quietest periods on the sports calendar.  How else to explain that the 50-win first place Red Sox are completely flying under the radar?  But I’ll get to them in a moment.

First, I’d like to follow up on Mike’s previous comments regarding the Celtics and the official end of the Pierce/Garnett/Rivers era.  I agree that being able to acquire four first-round draft picks for your head coach and two aging stars is quite a coup for Trader Danny.  The time had to eventually come for Ainge to reboot the franchise and begin the process it generally takes to build an NBA champion—draft a star or two and build around them via free agency.  The odds that Danny is going to be able to replicate the type of deals he pulled off six years ago in landing both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are pretty long, so going into the tank appears to be the way to go.  Be patient, Celtics fans.

Regarding the veteran departures, Paul Pierce will forever be a Boston Celtic despite the fact he’ll be wearing a Brooklyn jersey to close out his NBA playing career.  In his 15 seasons as a Green Teamer, Pierce scored over 24,000 career points, placing him second all-time in franchise history to only John Havlicek.  While becoming team captain and claiming an NBA Finals MVP award, Pierce literally grew up in front of our eyes, and I for one look forward to seeing his Number 34 eventually hoisted up to the rafters (and I can finally forget that Kevin Gamble once wore that same uniform).

If Pierce embodied the spirit of the Celtics, Kevin Garnett was the team’s beating heart over the six years he spent in Boston.  KG brought an intensity and defensive tenacity that was absolutely necessary for the C’s to restore their place as the original monarchs of the NBA.  Banner 17 would not have been possible without both PP and KG, and I can’t wait to hear the ovation they’ll receive when the Brooklyn Nets make their first appearance at TD Garden next season.

Now on to the Red Sox, who for only the fourth time in team history have won 50 games before the calendar reached July (the other occasions were in 1946, 1978 and 2008).  While none of those other three clubs won a championship, they all had as many memorable moments as the current edition.  Ben Cherington hasn’t assembled a group of all-stars, but has done a great job putting together a group of players that all understand their roles and perfectly complement one another.  John Farrell has done an outstanding job bringing respect and credibility back to the Sox managerial job and has been a big part of why the Sox currently own the best record in the American League.  It still boggles my mind that the only team with a better record than the Sox are the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that’s a great story as well.

If the Sox are to continue their success in a highly competitive AL East, they’ll need to shore up the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen.  Thought to be a strength going into the season, the overall relief numbers are near the bottom of the league due to the various struggles of each pitcher that has been asked to close out games this season (13 blown saves, second-most in the AL).  With an upcoming 10-game trip to the west coast followed by nine games against divisional rivals sandwiched around the all-star break, the July schedule is daunting.

If Cherington can’t bring in a solid arm or two via the trade market (Papelbon and his big contract are not the answer IMO), then he might need to find the solution down on the farm.  Could the Sox closer for the second half turn out to be 24-year old Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in last year’s trade with the Dodgers?  Currently pitching as a starter down in Pawtucket (2.28 ERA, 56K in 55 1/3 IP), De La Rosa’s high-90s fastball plus better-than-average changeup might be the perfect combination of fireworks that Sox fans will be to enjoy all summer.

Mike: I am finding it hard to believe that the Red Sox are the top team in the American League in July, and all anyone can talk about is the Celtics!

This has been a real bonus season for the Red Sox, after last year’s disaster nobody expected much from this season, and the team has quietly turned in a great performance. In fact, I am starting to think that all of the attention paid to the Bruins, Celtics and Patriots (especially with the Aaron Hernandez mess) has been good for the Red Sox.

No one on Yawkey Way will admit to that, but think about it. The Sox have been allowed to play the first part of this season in a position unique for them, in the background. The sellout streak is over, and the media has been paying attention to other, bigger stories, so this team has been allowed to find its way under less pressure and outside scrutiny than some other Red Sox teams of the past.

Now, the true test begins. All of the other stories are being pushed to the back burner and people are starting to realize they have a pretty good baseball team playing in Fenway Park, and all the eyes of New England will start to turn to the Sox as the summer heats up.

Let’s hope the Sox can keep up this pace all summer, after all, it’s more fun with a winning team. We all learned that lesson last year, didn’t we?

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