The Red Sox: "Go Celtics!"

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Papelbon dazed.jpgLast night’s game was a gut punch. Sure, it was technically only one game, but to Red Sox fans it must have felt like three or four. An early slap in the face, an inspiring comeback and then a 1-2 from A-Rod and Marcus Thames which probably felt like a mugging. With that the Red Sox have now lost 14 of 17 to the Yankees and at 19-20 in the toughest division in baseball, stand 8.5 games back. Wait, that’s not right. They sort of sit there, kind of dazed, shifting their weight back and forth.

It’s the kind of game that can make the talk radio guys go from asking “what’s wrong with the Red Sox” to shouting about who should be cut, traded and fired and demanding to know why anyone should even care.  More importantly, it’s the kind of game that could cause fans to decide that 2010 just isn’t happening and inspire them to find something else to do with their summer days than extend the Red Sox’ sellout streak.

But I think all of that wrath will hold off for a bit longer. At least a couple weeks longer, anyway, and maybe as long as a month.  What’s stopping it?  The Celtics, who currently look unstoppable.  For those of you who don’t traffic in the lesser sports, the men in green — after unceremoniously kicking LeBron James out of the playoffs and maybe out of Cleveland — lead the Eastern Conference finals 1-0 over the Orlando Magic, and look poised to head into the finals to challenge for their 18th banner.

Because the NBA is far more ridiculous than even Major League Baseball when it comes to scheduling, even a four-game sweep of the Magic would take until next Monday and a seven game series would take this sucker through May 30th. Then, unless things go differently than they currently appear to be going, it’s on to the Finals which could stretch into mid-June.  It should all serve as a nice distraction.

I’m not saying that the Red Sox will get a free pass to continue sucking while all that plays out — Boston is a baseball town above all else, and the Sox’ bad play will make some people cranky no matter what happens — but a nice long playoff run for the Celtics, preferably with a championship at the end, may prevent the more casual fans from hopping onto the Red Sox hate-wagon.

Of course when they do ultimately jump on, they’ll jump on hard. That is, unless they reverse a trend that currently has them giving up more runs per game than any other team in the American League (yes, including the Kansas City Royals). And unless Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury come back and remind everyone that, yes, this is a good defensive team.  And unless last night’s explosion from Victor Martinez is a harbinger of a long hot streak that will make the middle of the Sox’ order as truly formidable as it was supposed to be.

And make no mistake: last night’s game aside — if indeed it’s possible to put it aside — the Sox have improved.  It’s just that this improvement means very little as the Rays and Yankees continue to stand on the gas pedal and motor off into the distance.

But for the moment at least some non-trivial percentage of Red Sox Nation — those whose passports are a tad newer, it’s safe to assume — are only paying half attention.  Instead, they’re watching the Celtics. A team that, with each win, pushes the Sox’ day of public reckoning farther into the future.

The only problem? Each Celtics’ win also puts the Sox’ current state in sharper relief.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.