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Mastrodonato: With Alex Cora’s magic touch, playoff Red Sox look better than they have all year

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Mastrodonato: With Alex Cora’s magic touch, playoff Red Sox look better than they have all year

The Red Sox have arrived.

Finally, after two-plus months of mediocre baseball, the Red Sox showed up to play their best game of the season at the most important time on Tuesday as they steamrolled the New York Yankees, 6-2, to become one of the final four teams remaining in the American League.

These aren’t the Red Sox of August and September, who played just good enough to limp into the postseason as one of the two Wild Card teams.

And these aren’t the Red Sox of April through July, the team that surprised us all by winning close games, winning come-from-behind games and winning extra-inning games as they sat in first place for most of the first half.

Tuesday night, the Red Sox showed up to a Fenway Park crowd that hasn’t been this raucous and energetic in years. And they played like a team that hadn’t been that focused and confident in years.

“Doesn’t matter who is playing, who is not playing,” Cora said. “If we show up, we are going to play. And regardless of the result we are going to be happy with the way we go about our business. Sometimes it looks horrible. But 93 times a year it hasn’t looked horrible, so we’re going to keep rolling.”

This was a route.

Nathan Eovaldi looked like a man on a mission from the very first pitch. He sliced through the Yankees’ top of the order in the first inning on just 11 pitches, throwing nine strikes. His fastball touched 100 mph and sat at 98-99, easily the highest average velocity of the season.

He was amped up, but he wasn’t wild. He was as sharp as he’s ever been. And while he couldn’t grip his breaking ball the last time he played the Yankees, when he allowed seven runs, he had everything working with a five-pitch mix of magic that turned a high-powered Yankees offense into dust.

“We learned a lot last week,” Cora said of Eovaldi’s poor outing in his previous start.

Gerrit Cole wasn’t great, and it was clear from the beginning that Cora’s newly-shaped lineup had his number.

Cora thought by putting Kyle Schwarber first and Rafael Devers third, the Yankees would pitch to Schwarber but work around Devers. He was right, as Cole wanted nothing to do with Devers with nobody on base and two outs in the first.

Cole walked Devers, then made one mistake to Xander Bogaerts, leaving a changeup over the middle of the plate that Bogaerts hammered 400-plus feet over the center-field wall.

For a player who hadn’t been feeling good about his swing for “longer than a couple weeks,” Bogaerts might’ve been the MVP of this game with a two-run homer in the first and a beautifully-executed throw to home plate to nail Aaron Judge in the sixth, when the Yankees were trying to claw back.

“Talk about big plays by a big player tonight in Xander,” Schwarber said. “Big homer, and Kiké Hernandez with the great relay to him, to be able to keep that — if I could label play of the game, that would be play of the game for me, where Xander holes him down at the plate and keeps it from a 3-1 game instead of a 3-2 game.”

Working with a lead, Eovaldi only grew stronger.

He carved his way through the Yankees lineup while the Fenway crowd seemed to get more excited and confident with every out as he struck out eight and allowed just one run on four hits.

While another manager might’ve ticked off the entire New England region by taking Eovaldi out of the game after just 71 pitches, Cora pulled the trigger without a worry.

“When I went to the mound, he gave me this look, like, ‘what are you doing?’ Cora said. “But it’s just such a tough game to manage.”

Eovaldi looked stunned, as did the entire ballpark.

“It’s definitely frustrating but obviously I understand the situation and everything,” he said. “Third time through the lineup, it’s tough. Batter seeing you for the third time, they have a better understanding of what you’re going to do and a better idea of how you’re going to attack them.

“I get it. Obviously in that situation, I didn’t want to come out.”

Cole and Eovaldi were statistically the two most valuable starting pitchers in the league this year. Yet they combined to throw just 121 pitches in this game. For context, there have been 147 pitchers to throw at least that many pitches on their own in a playoff game. The last was Justin Verlander, who threw 123 pitches in a complete game effort to lead the Astros over the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS.

But Cora managed his bullpen flawlessly, using Ryan Brasier for Stanton in the sixth, Tanner Houck for a perfect inning in the seventh, Hansel Robles for another perfect inning in the eighth and rookie Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock, who began his career with the Yankees, to close the game out in the ninth.

In normal times, the Red Sox’ bullpen doesn’t stack up. It’s a puzzle on a nightly basis. There are no clear roles and there’s no closer.

In the playoffs, Cora gets the best out of the arms he has.

And low and behold, the Red Sox made some plays with their gloves on Tuesday.

The relay throw was the play of the game, and they managed to go nine innings without a single defensive mistake.

“We played defense,” Cora said. “When we play defense, we’re good.”

Even without J.D. Martinez, who is a question mark for the Rays series with a sprained left ankle, the Red Sox offense out-classed the Yankees’ bullpen and added three runs late on two of their best arms, Luis Severino and Jonathan Loaisiga.

If the Red Sox in the first half looked like a mediocre team that was good at winning, and in the second half they looked like a mediocre team that wasn’t, Tuesday’s game was something altogether different.

They pitched. They hit. The played defense. The manager pulled the right strings and the atmosphere at Fenway Park was electric.
The Red Sox looked like a complete baseball team.

“It can get you on a roll,” Bogaerts said. “If we played badly, we would have been going home, but we played good in a very pressured situation, a situation that was very important. We couldn’t make mistakes. Now we go to Tampa and feel like we could play pretty free.”

They’ll be the underdogs, but if they play like they did on Tuesday night, the defending A.L. champion Rays will have their hands full.

“We’ve just got to be ready to face a great baseball team,” Cora said. “Probably coming into the season, everybody talked about them being the best team in the big leagues. And we have a huge challenge. But we’re ready for it.”

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Ravens’ Week 15 game vs. Packers pushed back to late-afternoon kickoff

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Ravens’ Week 15 game vs. Packers pushed back to late-afternoon kickoff

The Ravens’ Week 15 home game against the Green Bay Packers has been pushed back to a 4:25 p.m. kickoff, the NFL announced Tuesday. Fox’s telecast of the game had been scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Dec. 19.

The NFL uses “flexible scheduling” in Weeks 11-18, meaning that, after consultation with its broadcast partners, it can move games into prime-time or late-afternoon slots. The announcements are made no later than 12 days before the game.

The Ravens are 3-0 against NFC North teams this season, edging the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, but Green Bay should be the division’s stiffest test. The 9-3 Packers, led by reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers, have the NFC’s second-best record. On Sunday, they knocked off the Los Angeles Rams, 36-28, in Green Bay.

The Ravens’ Week 15 game will be second of three late-afternoon kickoffs in a five-week span. On Sunday and in Week 17, they face the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Rams at 4:25 p.m.

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Denver’s homelessness response includes permanent cleanup zone in Five Points, safe outdoor space in Clayton

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Denver’s homelessness response includes permanent cleanup zone in Five Points, safe outdoor space in Clayton

The city of Denver has quietly stepped up its efforts to prevent encampments of homeless people from forming in one downtown neighborhood while also working to provide city land for a sanctioned camping site a few miles away.

City crews are now clearing unhoused people and their belongings from sidewalks and other public rights of way at least three times a week in a roughly 10-block area in the Five Points neighborhood, officials said.

“Permanent, regular cleanups are needed in this area to consistently promote the health and safety of everyone in the area, including those experiencing homelessness … ” Nancy Kuhn, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said in an emailed statement.

The area identified by officials in late September is bounded by Broadway, Park Avenue, Welton and 20th streets. It’s dotted with signs that mark it a permanent zone for what opponents to the camping ban refer to as sweeps. The permanent cleanup zone was first reported by Westword.

Kuhn said the cleanup actions make the sidewalk accessible so people don’t have to walk in the street and help to mitigate public health risks created by trash, decomposing food, discarded needles, human waste and flammable materials such as propane and gasoline.

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

The city of Denver has posted signs marking a new permanent no-camping zone in a portion of Five Points in Denver on Nov. 22, 2021.

Unlike in most encampments cleanups, the city does not provide notice to people camping in the area seven days in advance. The notice rule was established by a federal injunction earlier this year.

“It’s an attempted end-run around the requirements of the preliminary injunction,” Andy McNulty, the attorney who filed the federal lawsuit against the city’s camping ban, said last week. “They are putting up a zone that essentially says you can’t exist here if you’re an unhoused person.”

McNulty and Assistant City Attorney Conor Farley delivered arguments in a hearing with a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit last week about the merits of the preliminary injunction. The city’s goal was to have the restrictions on its camping ban enforcement powers lifted.

Farley noted in his comments there is a process through which the city can speed up enforcement actions to a 48-hour timetable if an emergency public health risk exists in an encampment but said that is still not soon enough. He also acknowledged the public record is thin on examples of public health emergencies that require a speedier response.

A representative for the City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the arguments which are still being considered by the judges on the panel. McNulty said the hearing was a demonstration that the city has been disingenuous about its motives for clearing encampments.

“They just want the power to do whatever they want whenever they want with no consequences and they are not happy that someone is actually holding them accountable for once,” he said.

The permanent cleanup area the city marked out in September is the second of its kind, Kuhn said. Another area, roughly outlined by Larimer, Arapahoe, 22nd and 24th streets, is also subject to regular enforcement, she said.

In her emailed statement, Kuhn encouraged people who are homeless to embrace the city services available to them rather than stay on the streets.

“Our shelters have capacity; they are open 24/7, many do not require sobriety, they are safe and clean, and provide essential services to exit homelessness, including case management and rehousing,” she wrote.

Kuhn emailed The Denver Post her statement before a Denver Rescue Mission employee was fatally stabbed at the organization’s shelter for men at 4600 E. 48th Ave. Saturday night.

The potential for violent episodes is just one thing that can keep unhoused people from using the city’s shelter network. Cathy Alderman, chief public policy officer for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, noted that sleeping in a large, open room with other people is not ideal for everyone and the environment can be triggering for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Tiger Woods has little to offer on past accident or future in golf

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Tiger Woods has little to offer on past accident or future in golf

NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods had nothing to say about the February car crash that shattered his right leg and even less of an idea what his future in golf holds for him except that he’s a long way from deciding whether he can compete against the best.

“I can show up here and I can host an event, I can play a par-3 course, I can hit a few shots, I can chip and putt,” he said Tuesday. “But we’re talking about going out there and playing against the world’s best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions.

“I’m so far from that.”

Woods addressed the media for the first time since his Feb. 23 crash on a winding road in the Los Angeles coastal suburbs. Police said he was driving at least 84 mph when he crossed a median and his SUV tumbled down a hill.

Asked his recollection of the accident, Woods said curtly, “All those answers have been answered in the investigation, so you can read about all that there in the police report.” When asked if he had any flashbacks to the trauma, he replied: “I don’t, no. Very lucky in that way.”

He also felt lucky to be alive and to still have his right leg, and to be able to walk into the press center at Albany Golf Club without a noticeable limp.

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