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Mastrodonato: Red Sox flawed from April through October, but find a way to get it done

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Mastrodonato: Red Sox flawed from April through October, but find a way to get it done

It’s hard to remember a more inconsistent, undisciplined and unfocused baseball team making a run to the playoffs than the 2021 Red Sox.

Alas, they got the job done.

Despite a wild ending that saw the Red Sox have to overcome a four-run deficit to avoid a one-game playoff against the pesky Blue Jays, the Sox found a way to knock off the Nationals, 7-5, on Sunday to punch their ticket to the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday, when they’ll host the Yankees at Fenway Park.

The Sox were a flawed-yet-resilient group from April through October, and it was no different in Game No. 162.

Where was Chris Sale on Sunday? He struck out the side in the first inning and tallied seven strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings of work, but was pulled after just 62 pitches because he couldn’t throw strikes and departed with a two-run deficit.

“Chris wasn’t sharp and I think he came off his mechanics toward the end,” manager Alex Cora said.

Where was J.D. Martinez? He evidently wasn’t paying attention as he took the field to play defense in the fifth inning and stumbled over the bag at second base, spraining his left ankle in the process. He was removed the next inning and it was Jose Iglesias who became the designated hitter out of the cleanup spot the rest of the game.

“He stepped on the bag and he twisted his ankle,” Cora said. “I don’t know (if he’ll play Tuesday).”

Alex Verdugo, too, looked lost in outer space after he made a terrible turn around first base on a fourth-inning single, got caught in a rundown and thrown out trying to scurry back to first base. At least Verdugo redeemed himself with a two-run, game-tying double in the seventh.

“I think today was crazy,” because of the start times, Verdugo said. “I was scoreboard-watching … I was checking on Toronto, checking in on the Yankees. But at the end of the day, we knew we had a job to do.”

The Blue Jays won first, putting pressure on the Red Sox to win or meet a Toronto team that has outscored them 110-81 on the year, despite going just 9-10 vs. the Red Sox in those games.

Then the Yankees won, securing their spot in the Wild Card game on Tuesday, and forcing the Red Sox to win in order to meet them there.

Cora was scoreboard-watching, too, and trying to decide how aggressive he wanted to be with this bullpen.

As the Sox clawed back against a last-place Nationals team that was busy celebrating a pair of players likely to retire, Alex Avila and Ryan Zimmerman, and a rookie starting pitcher making his big league debut, Cora put his foot on the gas and burned both Eduardo Rodriguez and Nick Pivetta for crucial one-inning stints.

It was anything but smooth. Four of the five pitchers who began the year in the starting rotation — Rodriguez, Pivetta, Garrett Richards and Martin Perez — pitched on Sunday, a preview of what’s to come.

There are no bullpen roles. There is no clear starting lineup. And there is no consistent plan of offensive attack.

There are just some really good players doing some impressive things at timely moments, and enough of them to overcome a whole lot of untimely ones.

Put it all together and it was arguably the most bizarre season by the Boston baseball team since the Bobby Valentine circus of 2012.

“I think at the beginning of the year everybody counted us out,” Verdugo said “Even at the half, everyone was kind of saying, ‘It’s a fluke. They played well. Whatever. Blah, blah, blah.’ But we like the guys in our clubhouse. We know what kind of offense we have.”

Expectations were modest in February, when the common consensus was that the Red Sox would be the third- or fourth-best team in the American League East. In a sense, they were. It just so happened that the four best teams in the AL East each won at least 90 games.

The Sox finished 92-70, eight games behind the 100-win Rays, tied with the Yankees and just one game ahead of the Blue Jays.

The division was either particularly strong or the rest of the American League particularly weak, but we won’t find out until the American League Championship Series two weeks from now. The winner of the Sox and Yankees will travel to Tampa on Thursday to begin the Division Series vs. the Rays, and the winner of that series will play the winner of the White Sox and Astros’ Division Series.

Neither the Sox nor the Yanks are playing their best baseball of the season. Both are beat up. But they’ve both rested their aces to ensure Nathan Eovaldi and Gerritt Cole will get a rematch of last Friday’s game at Fenway.

“Nobody believed in us at the beginning of the season,” Rafael Devers said. “Nobody believed in us halfway through the season. We knew we had to battle.”

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Large fire reported at recycling business in East St. Louis

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Large fire reported at recycling business in East St. Louis

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – The Christmas Traditions Festival is a celebration that business owners on Main Street in St. Charles rely on to stay afloat, especially coming out of the pandemic. But, they worry barriers will block the shoppers they need this season. 

“The question is do we have a shopping and dining district or do we have a street party district?” said Robert Schuette, owner of First Capitol Trading Collectibles and Gifts. 

Business owners on Main Street were notified on Nov. 2 that the St. Charles Fire chief approved a city ordinance to block off the strip from parking on weekends during the Christmas Traditions Festival for public safety reasons … but they say, blocking vehicles also block sales. 

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Mikaela Shiffrin ties Ingemar Stenmark record with win in women’s slalom

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Mikaela Shiffrin ties Ingemar Stenmark record with win in women’s slalom

KILLINGTON, Vt. — Mikaela Shiffrin marked the return of the women’s World Cup to North America by setting yet another record — and the two-time Olympic champion did it Sunday on home snow.

Shiffrin beat Petra Vlhova — her main rival — for her 46th career win in slalom. That matched a 32-year-old record for most World Cup wins in a single discipline, set by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark in giant slalom.

While the 26-year-old Shiffrin hails from Vail, Colorado, she can almost consider Killington a hometown race as she honed her skills nearby at the Burke Mountain Academy as a teenager.

Shiffrin trailed Vlhova by .20 seconds after the first run and, although she made an error at the top of her second run, a fantastic finish ensured she was still fastest on that second run.

Shiffrin lifted her arms over her head to soak in the cheers of the passionate home crowd before cupping her hand to her ear as she beamed broadly.

Then she turned to watch her rival.

Vlhova also made a mistake, and that cost her even more dearly than Shiffrin’s. The overall champion was almost a second slower than Shiffrin on the second run to ultimately finish .75 behind in second place.

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AP college football poll: Michigan rises to No. 2; Oklahoma State up to 5th

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AP college football poll: Michigan rises to No. 2; Oklahoma State up to 5th

Michigan jumped to No. 2 in The Associated Press college football poll on Sunday and Oklahoma State joined the top five for the first time since 2015.

Georgia was a unanimous No. 1 in the AP Top 25 presented by Regions Bank for the eighth consecutive week. For the fourth straight week, there is a different No. 2 team behind the Bulldogs.

Michigan has its highest ranking since it peaked at No 2. in 2016. The Wolverines moved up four spots after emphatically beating Ohio State on Saturday to break an eight-game losing streak in the rivalry.

Cincinnati moved up to No. 3, flip-flopping with Alabama at No. 4. The Crimson Tide slipped after beating Auburn in overtime.

Oklahoma State moved up two spots after beating Oklahoma for the first time since 2014. The Sooners fell three places to No. 13.

Notre Dame dropped a spot to No. 6 and Ohio State tumbled five spots to No. 7 a week after it peaked at second last week.

The week before the Buckeyes were No. 2, Alabama held that spot. The Tide had replaced Cincinnati the week before.

Mississippi, Baylor and Oregon rounded out the top 10.

POLL POINTS

The longest streak of weeks as unanimous No. 1 was Alabama’s run of nine in 2018.

There are two more polls left this season, after next week’s championship games and then after the College Football Playoff national title is decided on Jan. 10.

If Georgia can beat Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game next weekend and make a run through the playoff, it could break Alabama’s record.

But something to keep in mind for the Bulldogs: Alabama’s run of unanimous No. 1 rankings ended in a national championship game loss to Clemson and the Crimson Tide finished No. 2.

IN

— No. 22 Clemson (9-3) is back in the Top 25 after falling out after the last weekend of September. The Tigers have climbed back, winning seven of their final eight games.

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