September has turned into the sweetest month this year, and here’s why.
THE RED SOX
The first-place Red Sox – yes, first place – are in a pennant race after back-to-back last-place finishes in the American League East. Does it get any better than meaningful baseball in September? I don’t think so. Well, yes, when the meaningful games are against the Yankees, and the Red Sox sweep. They did just that over the weekend, ending New York’s long-shot playoff hopes with a 5-4 victory on Sunday. The four-game sweep was Boston’s first over New York in 26 years.
Did you catch the series opener Thursday night? Unbelievable. An instant classic. Trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the Sox rallied for five runs and a stunning 7-5 triumph. Hanley Ramirez ended it when he launched a two-out, 3-1 fastball from Yankees relief ace Dellin Betances on a majestic arc that landed about 426 feet away in the centerfield seats. The rally started when a pitch grazed the top of Chris Young’s batting helmet, was aided by a passed ball and featured RBI singles by Mookie Betts and David Ortiz. All that followed reliever Joe Kelly’s miraculous escape from a bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth, when he struck out two batters and snared a wicked line drive heading for his left ear.
Boston rolled on Friday, 7-4, and rallied on Saturday, 6-5, and Sunday, 5-4. Ramirez hit four home runs in the series, two on Sunday.
There are so many story lines to savor as this remarkable seasons heads to a climax. David Ortiz hitting .317, blasting 34 homers and driving in 116 runs in his final season. And he’s 40 years old! Rick Porcello rebounding from a horrid 9-15 record in 2015 to post a 20-4 record with a 3.12 ERA in 2016. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielders Mookie Batts and Jackie Bradley, Jr., establishing themselves as stars and Betts an MVP candidate with a .314 average, 30 home runs and 106 RBI. Catcher Sandy Leon settling in behind the plate and hitting .339. Ramirez, after a disappointing 2015 in which he struggled in left field and hit only 19 home runs, bouncing back to play first base, hit 28 homers and drive in 106 runs. Manager John Farrell dealing with an inconsistent pitching staff and injuries to several players well enough to have his team on top of the division, possibly saving his job.
The Sox lead the second-place Orioles by three games heading into a four-game set starting tonight. They are four games ahead of third-place Toronto, against whom they will close the regular season at Fenway. In between are road trips to Tampa Bay and New York. There’s a lot of baseball left before this season is over. Meaningful baseball.
They are 2-0 without Tom Brady, who is serving a four-game suspension thanks to NFL Commish Roger Goodell’s obsession with punishing someone for the Deflategate debacle, and Rob Gronkowski, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Now the quarterback intrigue deepens. Jimmy Garoppolo, the third-year backup who was having the game of his career Sunday against the Miami Dolphins – 18 of 27 for 234 yards, 3 touchdowns and a 21-0 lead in less than two quarters – suffered a right shoulder injury when driven to the turf after completing a pass to Malcolm Mitchell. Early reports suggested that Garoppolo sprained the acromioclavicular joint in his right shoulder. The AC joint, as it’s commonly referred to, is where part of the collarbone meets the top of the shoulder blade. Landing on the tip of the shoulder can cause the injury.
Rookie Jacoby Brissett replaced Garoppolo, completed 6 of 9 passes for 92 yards and helped the Patriots hang on for a 31-24 victory. The third-round draft pick from North Carolina State will start Thursday night against the 2-0 Houston Texans. If Garoppolo has not recovered by Week 4, Brissett will start against Buffalo. Brady will return for Week 5 at Cleveland. In the meantime, be assured the Pats have shopped the free-agent market for someone to back up Brissett.
The season began in August, but it’s officially underway now that the Ivy League has kicked off. Brown opened with a 35-27 victory at Bryant on Saturday after trailing 21-0 in the first quarter. The Bears celebrated that win for about five minutes because next Saturday Harvard, the reigning three-time Ivy champion, visits Brown Stadium. The Crimson amassing 564 yards on offense in their season-opening 51-21 rout of Rhode Island Friday night.
Bryant hopes to be a factor in the Northeast Conference, but the Bulldogs will have to clean up their act for that to happen. After beating Division II Merrimack, they out-played Montana State but turned the ball over five times and lost. They had that 21-0 lead over Brown but could not win. Those results look more like the disappointing 2015 team than a 2016 contender.
Salve Regina, the Division III school tucked among Newport’s mansions and with a home field at a Middletown middle school, is 2-0 and looking like a championship team again. Salve Regina, 24-10 under fourth-year coach Kevin Gilmartin, won the ECAC Clayton Chapman Bowl in 2015 and the ECAC Northeast Bowl in 2014. It’s a shame the Seahawks do not receive more coverage from Rhode Island’s shrinking media.
URI is at it again, struggling to score and struggling to keep people from scoring. No wonder the Rams are 0-3. This looks like another season of young players trying to establish themselves in the Colonial Athletic Association, most challenging league in the Football Championship Subdivision. We’ve seen this scene too many times in the last three decades. Here’s hoping the weather gods smile on Rhody’s faithful fans. They deserve something for their loyalty.