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Keeping Score: The right choice

Good morning!

Loyal Red Sox fans are upset that John Farrell wasn’t named the AL Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers of America Association. The award was announced Tuesday and Cleveland manager Terry Francona received 16 first-place votes to Farrell’s 12.

Francona took a flagging Indians franchise that was 21st in payroll and guided it to its first winning season in six years. He resurrected the careers of pitchers Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, who teamed up for 23 wins, and convinced aging slugger Jason Giambi to sign for $750,000 and be his big bat off the bench. Three times the 42-year-old Giambi hit walk-off, pinch-hit home runs and the Indians edged Texas for a wild card berth by one game.

Much was made of Farrell’s last-to-first managerial effort, but that angle was overhyped. Boston’s 69-93 record in 2012 was an aberration; its first losing season since 1997. The Red Sox have the fourth-highest payroll, and when Farrell walked into the clubhouse last spring David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury were all ready to make amends.

Farrell was fortunate that John Lackey’s pitching arm was surgically restored enough to throw 186 innings and that closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both got hurt and opened the door for Koji Uehara to become the team’s lights-out closer. Finally, GM Ben Cherington signed Mike Napoli, Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, all of whom had close to career years.

Farrell made the parts work and did a terrific job, but Francona was the miracle worker.

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The time came to stop blaming “W” for Obama’s problems, and the time will come to stop faulting deposed UMass hockey coach Toot Cahoon for second-year coach John Micheletto’s problems, but not yet.

Cahoon recruited goaltender Kevin Boyle, who according to one source was such a “cancer on the team” that Micheletto cut him loose after last season. That left junior goalie Steve Mastalerz and two newcomers, Alex Wakaluk and Mac Haight, and when Mastalerz was injured a week ago Friday the two freshmen combined to give up nine goals against UNH the next night.

The 9-0 margin was the most lopsided loss by a home team in the 21-year history of the Mullins Center.

How bad was it? So bad the fans strolled the concourse during the game and watched the Zamboni at intermission; so bad the camouflage uniforms UMass players wore turned out to be pajamas; so bad that Deerfield’s Frank and Maryanne Ciesluk left early to watch the Miss Universe contest.

But seriously folks, have patience, Haight was between the pipes on Thursday when UMass battled but lost to 7th-ranked Boston College 2-1. Hope is on the wintry horizon when Frank Vatrano suits up for UMass on Jan. 12 when the Minutemen play the U.S. Under-18 team. Vatrano is a B.C. transfer who’s sitting out under NCAA rules but can play in the exhibition game.

Micheletto reportedly has three other top-flight players in the fold and the search is on for a first-rate goaltender. Call him if you have any leads.

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Not that Cahoon didn’t get his share of decent players. Defenseman Justin Braun played two seasons at UMass and is now being considered for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Braun leads the San Jose Sharks in time on ice and skated on the power play with former UMass teammate Matt Irwin during the Sharks’ recent swing through Boston.

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At long last coach Derek Kellogg’s UMass basketball team has the look of an NCAA tournament contender. That was evident Tuesday morning when the Minutemen held off LSU before a somewhat disappointing crowd of 5,182 at the Mullins Center.

It appears to be a very good year not only for UMass but for Division 1 teams throughout New England. USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin has a half dozen rated in the top 100. UConn is 17th, followed by Boston College (64th), UMass (69th), UVM (78th), Harvard (80th) and BU (98th).

The Minutemen and Eagles will swap places in Sagarin’s next update after UMass handled Boston College 86-73 in Boston last week. This afternoon UMass hosts Youngstown State in a 1 p.m. tipoff.

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Finding a good college football team in New England is like finding a decent seafood store in Nebraska. Now it’s the University of Connecticut that’s learning that cold hard fact. The Huskies had a decent run, qualifying for three consecutive bowl games that culminated with a 48-20 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

UConn officials were stunned that nobody wanted to travel to Arizona for the game, but football isn’t a lifetime passion in the Nutmeg State like it is in Oklahoma. The NCAA requires teams to purchase ticket allotments and UConn lost $1.8 million in travel and unsold tickets.

Since that loss the Huskies have gone 10-22. They are 0-8 this season, USA Today rates them 114th out of 126 teams in the FBS, and today they are 15-point underdogs against SMU.

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Then there’s the BC football program which has managed to keep it together. This afternoon at the Heights a win against N.C. State would make them bowl eligible.

They’ve rebounded nicely from a 3-4 start and could finish with an 8-4 record and an invitation to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport on New Year’s Eve. According to nationalfootballpost.com, the Eagles’ likely opponent would be Notre Dame.

Last week the Eagles played in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 2,345 miles by car (according to distancebetweencities.net) and beat 1-9 New Mexico State, 48-34. Deerfield’s Jamin Hemenway was at the game but said beforehand, “I’m counting on the green chili cheeseburgers, and “Christmas style” enchiladas to be more interesting than the football.”

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Football coaches like to say they’re all about faith, family and football, but in SI’s Oklahoma State expose, linebacker Marcus Richardson said of the real college coaching mentality: “The only type of relationship coaches have with players is, ‘OK, if y’all don’t produce, then I get fired.’”

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The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is the PGA’s version of mini golf, 132 yards from tee to a green completely surrounded by water. An average of 274 balls reportedly land in the pond every day, over 100,000 per year. The course hires a diving company to dredge the pond. Oh, and golfvacationinsider.com reports that from March through June a round of golf at TPC Sawgrass is $410.

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Kevin Garnett is averaging only seven points a game for the Brooklyn Nets. The 37-year-old Garnett is closing in on the age when Shaquille O’Neal retired at 39. Once during a tour of Greece, O’Neal was asked if he’d visited the Parthenon. He replied, “I can’t really remember the names of all the clubs we went to.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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