Monthly Archives: September 2016

Banners are motivation as Celtics look to take next step

The first time Al Horford visited TD Garden — just five games into his NBA career — he couldn’t stop looking skyward at the Boston Celtics’ 16 championship banners that hung above the parquet floor. Horford admits he was hypnotized by the symbols of Boston’s winning tradition. He ultimately made six trips to Boston that season as the Celtics defeated Horford’s Atlanta Hawks in a thrilling seven-game series in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs en route to claiming a 17th world title.

Nine years later, the 30-year-old Horford wore his new Celtics No. 42 jersey at Monday’s media day and detailed how Boston’s history played a factor in his decision to sign a blockbuster four-year, $113 million deal this past summer.

“Maybe some guys feel differently, but I couldn’t stop looking at [the banners],” Horford said. “It’s powerful. … This is a special place.”

With the scoreboards at the team’s practice facility decorated with the same “18”s that have glowed at big media events since the team’s last title season, Horford and his new teammates stressed that they would not be overwhelmed by the heightened expectations that greet the team in coach Brad Stevens’ fourth year at the helm.

The Celtics, coming off a 48-win campaign and having added Horford this offseason, have been pegged to push north of 50 wins and emerge as the biggest challenger to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. While Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge were careful to temper expectations, even Ainge conceded there is one ultimate goal in Boston.

“We’re always gearing toward a championship,” Ainge said. “That’s always our objective. We’re building towards a championship. So we need to take another step.”

Anthony spoke out in his own way earlier this summer, when he asked athletes to use their platform to draw attention to police brutality in the wake of the killings of African American men by police and killings of police in Dallas. He also spoke on stage at the ESPYS about social injustice along with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul, and he organized a town hall meeting in Los Angeles to discuss police and community relations.

Anthony, who told NBA.com that he has emailed with Kaepernick, said Tuesday that Kaepernick’s decision to draw attention to social issues is what he was the kind of thing he was hoping for when he originally spoke out.

“That was the prime example of somebody stepping up,” Anthony said. “I think he was the first one that actually stepped up and did something the way that he wanted to do it, use his voice in the way that he wanted to use it. That’s the only thing I was asking. I didn’t know he was going to do it that way. But it is what it is at this point. Obviously, something good hopefully should come out of what he’s doing. I don’t think he’s being disrespectful. He’s not having a loud protest. He’s doing it quiet. He’s doing it in his own right, and if people want to follow suit, they follow suit. That’s on everybody else.”

Anthony said that he is unlikely to kneel during the national anthem this season. He and the rest of his teammates are likely to do something to call attention to police violence, but they have yet to decide what that will be.

Shaq’s NRG expands into Gears of War

The Gears of War esports scene just downed an energy shot courtesy of traditional sports. NRG Esports, whose investors include sports greats Shaquille O’Neal, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins, has signed a competitive squad for the upcoming Gears of War 4. The announcement, posted Wednesday on the Gears of War website, lists the new five-man roster: Christopher Stephen “Xavier Celsius” Hill, Marvin “Sir Sicamore” Moya, Yadiel “Sleepytime” Hidalgo, Frank Wesley “KO” Tibbs Jr. and Marion “Twist3DShot” Haynes.

Boston placed five players on SI’s list this year with free-agent acquisition Al Horford coming in a team-best 18th (up three spots from the previous year). Also on this year’s list for Boston: Johnson at 86, Avery Bradley at 72 and Jae Crowder at 53.

The lingering question is whether Thomas, who is coming off his first All-Star appearance, has a legitimate gripe about his place in the poll. Ranking players is no easy task and Thomas was No. 65 on ESPN’s NBA Rank poll last year.

Thomas certainly staked a claim to being one of the top 20 players in the NBA last season. While there’s no perfect metric to determine players with the biggest impact, it’s hard to ignore Thomas placing 16th in win share (one spot ahead of Horford) and 19th in Basketball Reference’s value over replacement player metric.

What will help Thomas most in these sort of polls is showing he can consistently produce at an All-Star level. Until then, he’ll use it as fuel. Thomas often finds motivation in any person or poll that doubts his abilities. Even if he vaults into the top 20 next September, you get the sense he might still find a way to feel slighted until he’s closer to the top.

He couldn’t offer up much in the way of specifics about what the coming season has in store for him, as much of that is still to be determined, but Yi did say that he likes to shoot 3-pointers, and that he believes he can space the floor.

Yi added that he never felt frustration about his first NBA go-around not having worked out so well. Instead, he said he just told himself to focus on working hard and playing hard. “That’s all I can do,” he said.

Benched Jacoby Ellsbury’s homer won’t change Yankees’ plan

NEW YORK — It is hard to believe that the New York Yankees would sign a player for seven years and $153 million, and then sit him on the bench for their most important games.

But that is precisely what the Yankees have been doing with Jacoby Ellsbury. This dates back to last year’s wild-card play-in game, when Joe Girardi decided to sit his everyday center fielder simply because he is a left-handed batter, and Dallas Keuchel, a lefty, was starting for the Houston Astros.

Assuming that the first time was the hardest, it has gotten easier and easier for the Yankees to bench Ellsbury, for a variety of reasons. Earlier this season, Girardi developed a habit of sitting either Ellsbury or Brett Gardner, his everyday left fielder who also happens to hit from the left side, when a left-hander was starting for the opposition.

“I thought he put on a great at-bat the other day,” manager Terry Collins said. “So I just said, ‘You know what? I’m going to play him tonight and see how he does.’ I really wanted to break up those left-handers [No. 5 Jay Bruce and No. 7 James Loney] because I thought it was going to be a tight game. I just didn’t want all those lefties in a row. And fortunately, he came through with a huge night. … Everybody that’s ever had him said this guy can really hit. He always has, so we’re going to give him a shot.”

Rivera’s first major league homer allowed the Mets to rebound after Jeurys Familia suffered his fourth blown save in 52 chances a half-inning earlier. The Nationals plated two runs against Familia, thanks to a pair of infield singles and third baseman Jose Reyes’ error.

Familia had been bidding to record his 49th save, which would have matched Jose Valverde (2011) and Francisco Cordero (2004) for the single-season record by a Dominican-born reliever.

“We were disappointed, frustrated,” Collins said. “We’ve got arguably the best closer in the game. And they hit four ground balls. Three of them didn’t get out of the infield, and the game’s tied. He was frustrated about it. We certainly understand it. But we wouldn’t be sitting where we are without him. But I’ll tell you, we came off the field and still had some fight left.”

The Mets have won 17 of their past 23 games and maintain a half-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card spot.

“I was super excited going around the bases,” said Rivera, who was ambushed by a whipped-cream pie to the face when he retreated to the clubhouse postgame. “It’s my first big league home run.”

Jerry Blevins recorded a game-ending strikeout of Mets tormentor Daniel Murphy to end the game.

Astros SS Carlos Correa sent home with shoulder inflammation

CLEVELAND — Astros shortstop Carlos Correa has been sent back to Houston because of inflammation in his left shoulder.

Manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday he was optimistic the reigning AL Rookie of Year would be able to play this weekend when the Astros host the Chicago Cubs. Hinch said the team wanted Correa to undergo additional medical tests.

Ramirez, who turns 35 on Sept. 22, hit .240 with five homers and 41 RBIs in 128 games with San Diego. He started 109 games at shortstop, three in right field and one at designated hitter. Padres manager Andy Green said Ramirez “didn’t have the range at shortstop anymore that we need” after Ramirez was released.

Ramirez, a 2014 All-Star, signed with the White Sox out of Cuba before the 2008 season and hit .273 with 109 home runs in eight years with Chicago. He signed as a free agent with San Diego in January, agreeing to a deal that included a $3 million salary this year and a 2017 mutual option with a $1 million buyout.

Tampa Bay pays $69,331 for the rest of the season, a prorated share of the big league minimum that offsets a portion of what the Padres owe.

The Colorado Rockies reinstated right-handed pitcher Jason Motte from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday.

Motte was placed on the DL on July 27 with a right rotator cuff strain. He is 0-1 with a 5.66 ERA in 26 appearances.

The Rockies outrighted infielder Rafael Ynoa and infielder-outfielder Ben Paulsen to Triple-A Albuquerque. Both players were designated for assignment on Tuesday.

Clayton Kershaw return timeline: When could we see Dodgers ace pitch again?

LOS ANGELES – Outside of trying to calculate when the Los Angeles Dodgers might clinch their fourth consecutive division title, the other magic number that will prove vital is figuring out how many days until Clayton Kershaw returns.

Yes, the Dodgers have shown they can win games without their staff ace — they are now 33-32 without Kershaw (they were 41-36 with him). But getting Kershaw back not only strengthens the roster, it gives them an ace to lean on in the playoffs and could help the bullpen in September if the left-hander can give the team some length in his last couple of starts.

While the wins and losses will be tracked closely down the stretch, so will the days until Kershaw might pitch in a Dodgers uniform again.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner, who has not pitched since June 26 because of a lower back issue, will pitch at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday against hitters brought in from Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

The left-hander is still trying to return in September, but no guarantees have been made that he will.

“At that point and time it depends on how he comes out of it,” Roberts said when asked what will come next after the simulated outing. “We have a couple of different scenarios, and depending on how he comes out of it, we’ll make a decision.”

Kershaw is 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA.

Shingles is an often painful rash that results from a recurrence of the chicken pox virus in people who have had chickenpox previously.

Now: Perhaps you’ve heard us on the Statcast? Podcast or on social media over recent weeks putting forth an argument that catcher’s arm strengths, by themselves, aren’t as important as you’d think in terms of preventing stolen bases. We’ve said that because nearly 70 percent of all our tracked throws to second here fall in a relatively narrow band between 77 mph and 82 mph, and because throw accuracy, pitcher release time, runner speed, and lead distance all seem like they may matter as much or more. We’ll be working to prove that in the coming weeks and months, in these pages.

Betts had 18 homers over 597 at bats in his first full season in the Majors Leagues last year.

After hitting leadoff for most of his career, Betts was moved to the third spot on Aug. 10, and cleanup five days later, where he has remained over the last couple of weeks.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002.