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Mastrodonato: Ron Roenicke and Alex Cora reunite, reminding Red Sox how much can change in one year

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Mastrodonato: Ron Roenicke and Alex Cora reunite, reminding Red Sox how much can change in one year

HOUSTON — If ever there was a sign of how much things can change in one year, it was the sight of Ron Roenicke, perched in the stands from behind the backstop netting, talking to Alex Cora, who was standing on the field and about to manage the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park.

Thirteen months earlier, Roenicke learned before the last day of the regular season that it would be his final game as the manager of the Red Sox. He had been given a thankless job and asked to do it in the heart of a global pandemic, with an embarrassingly-thin roster and the strong likelihood that the man he previously mentored, Cora, would be replacing him soon.

It was a no-win situation, and Roenicke handled himself with class. Unfortunately, the Red Sox played uninspiring baseball for 60 games, finished in last place and resulted in the entire New England region ignoring the local nine like never before. Ratings reached record lows and most of us wondered if the Sox would do enough to captivate an audience at any point in 2021.

Talking through a fence and holding a notebook in hand, Roenicke, now an advanced scout for the Dodgers, exchanged pleasantries with Cora and a few other Red Sox players who greeted him before the game.

Game 6 of the American League Championship Series was a win-or-go-home situation for the Red Sox. But with the juxtaposition of Roenicke and Cora standing next to each other before the game, it was easy to envision how much the Sox roster changed from one year ago, and how much it could still change one year from now.

Among the biggest differences from ‘20 to ‘21 was of course the managerial change. Not that it’s fair to say Cora would’ve done more with the same club Roenicke had to work with; it lacked depth and played with no energy all year.

One of Cora’s first remarks when he took over the job again was how he wanted this team to play faster and play better defense.

It’s not clear they did either of those things under Cora, and the defense in particular has been a struggle all year long, just as it was in ’20.

In the last two games alone the Sox had Hunter Renfroe’s poor play at the right-field wall that led to the Astros’ big ninth inning off Nathan Eovaldi in Game 4 and Kyle Schwarber’s drop at first base that led to a big inning off Chris Sale in Game 5.

Still, Renfroe and Kiké Hernandez, perhaps Chaim Bloom’s two best signings leading into the year, had undoubtedly changed the Red Sox offense for the better all season, and both will be back next year.

But perhaps the biggest difference from ‘20 to ‘21 is the same reason to be excited about what’s to come in ‘22, no matter how the ‘21 season finishes up: Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck.

The two rookie pitchers were sensational and have continued to flash dominance in the postseason, so much so that Cora was asked about both of them before Game 6 on Friday.

Houck figures to be a key fixture in the starting rotation for years to come, but had thrown just one inning over the first five games in the ALCS after throwing six innings in the four-game Division Series against the Rays.

It was largely expected that Houck would piggy-back off Sale in Game 5, but Cora instead went to Ryan Brasier, who couldn’t stop the bleeding as the Astros pounded the Sox, 9-1.

Where has Houck been in this series?

“There were two blowout games,” Cora said. “And Game 4, we had Whitlock. Then we had Nate in Game 5, we had Sale going 5-1/3 and Brasier. … it’s just the nature of the series. This is not, ‘we’re going to pitch this guy because he’s good or because he’s Tanner Houck.’ It has to be at one point, a window that we’re going to use him and hopefully the hope is that it’s (Game 6 and Game 7).”

Whitlock had been lights out most of the postseason until Game 4, when he blew the save in the eighth inning by serving up a game-tying home run to Jose Altuve.

Overall, Whitlock and Houck have combined to throw 16 innings with a 3.38 ERA and 14 strikeouts to just two walks this postseason.

Next year, both could be in the starting rotation when the playoffs roll around.

“Let’s keep him a reliever for the next ten days,” Cora said laughing. “But obviously, we believe he can be a starter with time, but you never know what can happen in the future.”

The Sox will surely need to address their pitching depth in the offseason, especially after having just one lefty reliever they can trust, Josh Taylor, and struggling with the Astros’ lefty bats this series.

They’ll need another starter. They may want to try to re-sign Kyle Schwarber.

More roster moves are coming, as they always do.

Watching Roenicke and Cora in the same place on Friday, it’s easy to remember how much can change in one year.

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Lucas: Healey should give Biden a hand, he could use it

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Lucas: By bowing out, Charlie Baker leaves door wide open for Maura Healey

Democrat gubernatorial candidate-in-waiting Maura Healey ought to invite President Biden to her announcement ceremony.

After getting stiffed in Georgia by Stacey Abrams, who is also running for governor, Biden could use a hug.

The Stacey diss came when the Georgia Democrat, once on Biden’s short list of vice-presidential candidates, declined to attend Biden’s speech in Atlanta last week.

It would do Healey a lot of good among Democrats, liberals and progressives to host Biden. It would show that while Biden is down and out in the polls, he still has his base of support in Massachusetts

A warm Boston reception would stand in stark contrast to the cold shoulder many Democrats, including Abrams — once a strong supporter — gave Biden in Atlanta.

Once there Biden delivered a weird speech on voting rights, comparing opponents of the Democrat-sponsored voting rights bill to racists.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the speech was not only “profoundly unpresidential, but it also “was incoherent, incorrect and beneath his office.”

Abrams claimed her absence was due to a scheduling conflict. Biden went along with the excuse. And nobody believed either one of them. You drop your schedule when the president of the United States says he is coming.

More realistically Abrams did not want to appear on the same platform as Biden, who has fallen so deep into a hole that it would take a cave rescue team to find him.

So, forget the Bulldogs, go Minutemen.

Although Attorney General Healey has not officially announced her candidacy for the Democrat nomination for governor, she will automatically become the favorite once she does.

She is a progressive who is far better known than her two opponents, has a two-term record as attorney general, has raised a ton of money and could become the first woman and openly gay governor elected in Massachusetts.

Currently the other two Democrats running are state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston and Harvard professor Danielle Allen.

With Healey in the race, it is likely that they would eventually drop out of the race the way former state Sen. Ben Dowling of Pittsfield did. Dowling, the first to get in the race, was the first to drop out.

So, Healey has nothing to lose and a lot to gain by inviting Biden to come to Massachusetts. She is a well-established Trump antagonist, having filed some 50 lawsuits against Trump when he was president. Most went nowhere but they helped weaken Trump, which was the point.

And despite his train wreck of an administration, Biden still has three years left on his term, so it makes good sense for a governor to be on good terms with him.

As all but crowned as the Democrat nominee, Healey would face conservative Republican Geoff Diehl, a Trump supporter, in the November election, which could make for an interesting race.

Healey, a good progressive Democrat, is a solid Biden supporter who is already campaigning against Trump.

No sooner did Biden give his speech in Atlanta, than Healey was out with a statement praising Biden and echoing what he said, even the parts that were untrue.

“Did you hear President Biden’s speech in Atlanta today?” Healey asked in a fundraising email to potential campaign donors. “He traveled to the cradle of the civil rights movement to outline the urgent need to protect our constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections.

“There’s no question that our democracy is under threat. One year ago, armed insurrectionists launched a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol,” she said.

“The former president and his cronies are still spreading lies about the integrity of our elections and initiating sham audits.

“Republican legislatures across the country are passing dangerous restrictions on the right to vote that disproportionately target black, Latino and Indigenous people,” she said.

“One of my top priorities this year is advocating for voting reform. We need legislative action to prevent election sabotage and protect the freedom to vote” as “a first step toward healing our democracy.”

Joe Biden could not have said it any better.

Healey, as the new leader of the Democrat Party in the state, may not be able to heal our democracy, but she sure could help heal old Joe.

And unlike Abrams and Georgia, Healey could welcome Biden and give the sad and confused old guy a much-needed hug.

Peter Lucas is a veteran Massachusetts political reporter and columnist.

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Catholic Memorial, Xaverian boys battle to 1-1 tie

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Catholic Memorial, Xaverian boys battle to 1-1 tie

CANTON — By now, every hockey player, coach, parent and Zamboni driver in Massachusetts is well aware of the fact there will not be a Super Eight tournament this season.

So, as a way to recreate a similar atmosphere, the Catholic Conference and its member schools decided to get a little creative, and host a “Showcase,” with three games taking place back-to-back in the same facility.

Based on how things shook out at the Canton Ice House Sunday, it looks like they made the right choice. In the opening showdown of the afternoon, which also featured some late-game controversy, Catholic Memorial ended up skating to a heart-stopping 1-1 draw with rival Xaverian.

“(It was) really fun,” said Xaverian coach David Spinale. “Lot of energy in the building. Chris Kuchar from Malden, it was his idea. We all supported it, and we just said: ‘Let’s find a location, where we could do kind of a game to game to game (structure),’ like this.”

Despite the frigid temperatures, hundreds of fans made their way to Norfolk County to take part in the events, and they were treated to a defensive stalemate in the first game.

Both Catholic Memorial (6-1-1) and Xaverian (7-1-1) struggled to get anything going offensively for the entirety of the opening period, with quality chances coming few and far between.

This held true until the latter stages of the second stanza, when Finn Burke found himself in possession of the puck behind the Xaverian net. As he scanned the ice for a teammate, the defenseman spotted Connor Fryberger skating alone in the slot, and fed a pass his way.

Fryberger proceeded to slap a shot into the lower corner of the cage, giving Catholic Memorial a 1-0 edge with 5:38 to play in the period.

Desperately needing an equalizer later on in the third, Xaverian drew even behind the efforts of junior right winger Joe DiMartino, who registered his fourth goal of the season with 8:43 remaining in regulation.

Although Catholic Memorial was whistled for a critical tripping penalty with 2:49 left, Xaverian was unable to capitalize on the man-advantage as the Knights forced overtime.

Neither program managed to strike in the extra session, at least, not until there were about 6.5 seconds remaining, when Nick D’Olympio started one final 2-on-1 rush. The Rockland native fired a shot off the pad of Xaverian goaltender Brendan Flanagan. The puck then bounced over to Fryberger, who tipped it home for what appeared to be a game-winning goal. However, the referees waved the play off, saying it came after time had expired.

“It hit off (the goaltender’s) pad, and I batted it out of the air,” said Fryberger. “It could’ve been a buzzer-beater, but it was too late… I thought I had it in time, adrenaline pumping. I don’t know.”

Braden O’Hara and Max Lockwood were credited with assists for Xaverian.

“I couldn’t really tell,” Spinale said when asked about the final sequence. “I thought I heard the buzzer, then it went in. But again, I’m biased.”

On a day where the Knights were missing multiple key players, Tyler Hamilton stood out for Catholic Memorial, as he notched an assist.

“We showed up today with guys that play hockey and we played hockey,” Catholic Memorial coach Larry Rooney said. “We played a good game of hockey, and I’m proud of the guys.”

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Bruins place Karson Kuhlman on waivers

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Bruins place Karson Kuhlman on waivers

The Bruins placed reserve right wing Karson Kuhlman on waivers on Sunday.

The 26-year-old Kuhlman, who signed with the B’s as a free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth in 2018, has a goal and an assist in 19 games this year. He’s got 7-8-15 totals in 75 career NHL games.

The move suggests that Trent Frederic and/or Nick Foligno are close to being activated off injured reserve. Foligno appeared to have dodged a serious injury after getting tangled up with an opponent and awkwardly falling on a net-front play in the B’s victory in Tampa on January 8. He resumed skating last Friday. Frederic suffered an upper body injury in Washington on Jan. 10.

Oskar Steen, meanwhile, has been in the lineup for the past eight games since being called up from Providence. He’s got a goal and an assist and, in Saturday’s physical 4-3 wn over Nashville, he dished out six hits.

We’ll find out at 2 p.m. Monday if a team puts a claim in on Kuhlman, who has a salary of $725,000 and will be a restricted free agent in the summer.

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