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.

Report: Phillies want a top-five prospect for Jeremy Hellickson

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 20: Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson #58 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the second inning during a game against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on July 20, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Starter Jeremy Hellickson has become the Phillies’ most enticing trade chip as he’s put together a solid month of July. After shutting out the Marlins on one hit and one walk over six innings on Monday, the right-hander lowered his July ERA to 1.97 and his overall ERA to 3.65. As a result, the Phillies are telling teams they want a top-five prospect to part with Hellickson, per ESPN’s Jayson Stark.

Obviously, a top-five prospect means something different if you’re the Marlins as opposed to the Rangers. And the Phillies’ price point for Hellickson isn’t likely to stay that high, but GM Matt Klentak is setting a lofty starting point so that the return might end up being higher than market value.

ESPN’s Buster Olney speculates that the Phillies could end up holding onto Hellickson and giving him a qualifying offer after the season. He notes that the Phillies have only $25 million tied up for the 2017 season, so they could afford to pay Hellickson in excess of $16 million if he were to accept.

Video: Matt Cain launches a three-run home run

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 26: Matt Cain #18 of the San Francisco Giants hits a three run home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the second inning at AT&T Park on July 26, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Madison Bumgarner isn’t the only Giants pitcher who can rake. Matt Cain crushed a three-run home run during Tuesday’s game against the Giants.

Cain stepped to the plate with runners on the corner and one out against Reds starter Cody Reed in the bottom of the second inning. Reed threw a 1-1 fastball down the middle and Cain hit it about 20 rows back in the left field seats.

It’s Cain’s first homer of the season, his first since 2012, and the seventh of his 12-year career. He still has some work to catch up to Bumgarner, who has two homers this year and 13 in his career.

On the pitching side of things, Cain got the win against the Reds on Tuesday night, giving up four runs on six hits and a walk with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. He currently holds an ugly 5.95 ERA.