Three things -- three games

It’s hilarious to consider how precisely a year ago the Celtics and their spoiled legions were wailing about their accursed luck in being cheated out of illustrious rookie prospects by the capricious whims of bouncing Ping-Pong balls.

Had alleged “fortune” smiled on them last June they would have been overjoyed to draft either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden and launch yet another interminable re-building program that would have had neither the room nor the interest, let alone the wherewithal, for the likes of Kevin Garnett. And had they picked Oden who promptly wrecked his knee -- as was likely the case -- the following would have been a lock.

They would have been more miserable this season than last when they were an utter disgrace. Their season would have ended six weeks ago. Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers would have since been fired. Paul Pierce would be right behind them, riding a rail out of town. Wycliffe Grousbeck and his happy band of financiers would officially be the town’s laughingstock. And the tattered remnants of the fabled dynasty would again be groveling for a break with its fortunes tied to the capricious whims of bouncing Ping-Pong balls.

It’s a marvelous twist even for a franchise that’s had almost mystical interventions of sheer good luck many times in its history. A terrible blow turns out to be a gift from the gods. Redemption arrives disguised as sheer ruin. It’s one of the great stories of our sporting times and a reminder that in this day and age the difference between a champion and a bum can be as thin as a razor’s edge.

On the other hand, we ought not get too far ahead of ourselves here. For the first time in these playoffs, the Celtics face in the Lakers a legitimate contender that is also healthy. As was the case in the Cleveland series, when it was essentially a matter of derailing LeBron James for a game or two, they have to find a way to mess with the mind of Kobe Bryant. That will prove significantly more difficult and even more necessary.

At the hour this seemingly magical turn of events arrives at its denouement, this much should be understood. The razors edge slides with the tides. Moreover, the core nucleus of this team is hardly composed of ‘‘kids.’’ This could well be their one great shot. It may be now or never.

Sox

When Manny Ramirez, in one of his merrier Manny moments, clubbed his 500th career home run the other day he became the 24th slugger in baseball history to reach that level of eminence. Until the 1970s it was an achievement considered a fast-track ticket to the Hall of Fame, making the bearer a first-ballot cinch with no questions asked. But should that any longer be the case?

When Ted Williams surpassed 500 dingers in his final season, 1960, he became only the fourth chap ever to scale such slugging heights with Mel Ott (511), Jimmie Foxx (534) and Himself, the one and only Bambino (714), being the others at that time. Ted, of course, finished with 521. The difference between only four people having accomplished something in baseball’s entire history and 24 having done it is substantial.

The point has everything to do with the watering down of baseball’s precious mother lode of vital statistics brought about by a gamut of forces, not all of them proper. They include smaller ballparks, buggy whip bats, steroids, weaker pitching, HGH, atomized baseballs, all those vitamins, additives, and not so legitimate enhancements that enable sluggers to beef up, lower fences, umpires who won’t let pitchers pitch inside. There are more.

It is not just the hitters. Pitching’s equivalent of 500 homers or 3,000 hits is the winning of 300 games. Tommy Glavine has lately accomplished the trick joining the illustrious ranks of the Lefty Groves and Warren Spahns. But that hardly makes Glavine the equal of “Old Mose” or “Spahnie” anymore than winning 300 games put Don Sutton in the same class as Bob Feller, Robin Roberts or Bob Gibson, none of whom came close. Glavine and Sutton -- among many others -- benefit hugely from modern medical science that can maintain and repair arms that were once well beyond help or restoration. This has allowed many to pile up the numbers well into their 40s. Relief pitchers and pitch counts have further helped.

Statistics have to be redefined. In the modern era, they have lost their sheer power to dazzle and convince. They need to be scrutinized. None of which will affect the case of Ramirez. For all his flaws, he’ll breeze into Cooperstown because by the time he hangs ‘em up, his HR and RBI numbers will be off the charts; even the revised charts. But if they let Manny in, how can they keep Babe Herman out?

Lord Stanley’s Cup

There’s danger in suggesting anything definitive let alone final about a professional championship series still in progress, although if you write for a weekly newspaper that temptation is an occupational hazard. While knowing better, dare I suggest the Stanley Cup Finals were a disappointment if only because the Detroit Red Wings are too darn good.

As of the writing the Wings lead the series three games to two. The uppity Pittsburgh Penguins could still turn it into a classic by winning the last three games. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it, if I were you. The Wings sterling defense simply won’t allow that.

This was supposed to be the most sizzling Cup showdown in a decade. The Penguins have fabulous young talent. Yet through the first four games, the Wings have rendered them “ordinary.” It’s hard to play hockey better than these Detroit guys have been playing it.

Nicklas Lidstrom, leader of the Wings’ superb pack of seven flying Swedes, is generally credited with being their guiding genius. He’s widely regarded as ranking among the half-dozen best defensemen of all times. That would place him in the ultimate company of Doug Harvey, Dennis Potvin, and those three illustrious Bruins; Eddie Shore, Ray Bourque, and the incomparable one, Bobby Orr. While already a six-time Norris Cup winner, it’s still fair to ask if Lidstrom is worthy of that much esteem. Does his body of work surpass that of his own teammate, the granite-jawed Chris Chelios, who at 46 is still a titanic force and inspiration? The Wings defense, which some argue is the best of all-time, has made journeyman goalie Chris Osgood, who was available on the waiver wire not so long ago, look like the new Terry Sawchuck.

Such matters are incidental to the moment, however. The more important question is, what does the Wings’ excellence do to that theory -- most prominently espoused by our old pal Don Cherry -- that holds that the glut of European imports, led by the Swedes whom Grapes most deplores, have altered the game, diminished its style, and lessened its appeal to North American audiences?

One suspects it ends the argument for good. A Swedish all-star team aided by an aging Greek defenseman, a rebuilt goalie, and a handful of Canadian plumbers is about to win the Stanley Cup in a manner as impressively as it’s been done since the glory days of the Original Six. Poor Grapes will never survive this.

As for the rest of us, two of the most poignant statistics of the season are these. In 2008, Gordie Howe turned 80 years of age. And Bobby Orr turned 60. Who says hockey fans live in the past?

Nation
Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Nation
Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

World
Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Local
Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Local
Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Local
Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Local
Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Local
Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

Nation
N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

Nation
U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Nation
Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Nation
Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

World
Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

World
Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

World
Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

World
Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

World
Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

World
Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Nation
Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Nation
Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

World
Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Nation
Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Nation
Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Nation
Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Nation
Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Nation
Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Nation
Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

World
Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

World
Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

World
Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Nation
Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

World
Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Nation
Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

World
Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

World
What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

World
Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...

World
Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...