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Friday, May 29, 2015

Eduardo Rodriguez dazzles in first Red Sox start -- now Ben needs to give him another

For starters, Rodriquez lives up to the hype.

For most of two months, the Red Sox have sought the spark needed to get their season on track. Now that they may have found it, they would be smart to keep it around.

Last night, in his major league debut, Eduardo Rodriguez shut down one of MLB's hottest-hitting teams in a 5-1 win over the Texas Rangers.  Boston's much-hyped lefthander allowed just 3 hits and 0 runs in 7 2/3 innings, with 7 strikeouts and 2 walks, while performing with poise well beyond his 22 years. 

In fact, Rodriguez pitched with the type of confidence that another Red Sox lefty -- Jon Lester -- displayed so often during his long career in Boston. Beginning with a strikeout of .368 hitter Prince Fielder to end the first inning, Rodriguez was in control throughout the contest with excellent command of his 93-94 mph fastball, slider, and change-up. 
Eduardo has a grip on things.

He did a terrific job moving in and out off the plate, and in mid-game allowed just one walk in a 15-batter stretch that included three strikeouts in the fifth inning. His 106 pitches tied his career high as a professional.

When Rodriguez got the call to report to Arlington from Triple A Pawtucket, he did so with the understanding that he would be returning to the minors after one spot start -- serving as a hole-plugger during a 20-day stretch in which the Red Sox have no days off. Now, however, GM Ben Cherington may want to reconsider that strategy.

If ever a guy deserved a chance to earn a spot in the rotation, it's Rodriguez.

Just how monumental was this performance? You have to go back to 1967 and the near no-hitter by "Impossible Dream" footnote Billy Rohr to find a younger Red Sox pitcher who went further in his MLB debut.
Billy Rohr went 8 2/3 no-hit innings in his debut.

Throw in Hanley Ramirez's first home run since April 29 and three-hit nights from leadoff man extraordinaire Dustin Pedroia and No. 2 man Mookie Betts, and you have one of the most satisfying wins of the year.

Whether it also turns out to be one of the most meaningful remains to be seen. 

Knuckleballer Steven Wright -- coming off an excellent start of his own last weekend -- will do his best to keep the mojo going Friday night.

When asked before Rodriguez's start whether an especially strong outing would force the club to keep him around, Boston manager John Farrell said "we'll really, really reconsider." After the game, Farrell said the rookie would definitely be making another start -- if it was up to Farrell.

The final decision, however, will be made by Cherington. Let's hope he makes the right one.

Fielder and the Rangers had no answers.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Cheer up and laugh fans with some Red Sox-themed Letterman Top Ten Lists

Ortiz gets the last laugh on Mr. Yankee Fan.

David Letterman made his love for baseball -- and the Yankees -- very clear during his 33 years as a late-night TV host, with legends from Harmon Killebrew to Bill Veeck to Derek Jeter taking a seat by his desk. He liked to have some fun with the Red Sox, however, and with the Sox currently suffering through one of the worst offensive slumps in team history, Boston fans can all use a laugh.

In honor of Letterman's retirement, here are some of the best Red Sox-related Top 10 lists (and mentions on lists) from the past 15 years:

Feb. 19, 2015 (after Pablo Sandoval reports to his first Boston spring training looking a bit hefty around the middle)

Top Ten Things You Don't Want to Hear From Your $95 Million Baseball Player

10.   "Are you going to finish that?"
9.     "I'm a .294 hitter, and that''s just my cholesterol."
8.     "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks and a hot dog and popcorn and one of those little baseball helmets filled with ice cream."
7.     "Could have sworn the season started in August."
6.     "Can we make it to the seventh-inning brunch."
5.     "I need a few weekends off for Bachelor parties."
4.    "Do the bases have to be so far apart."
3.    "I eat like Babe Ruth, drink like Ruth Bader Ginsburg  

(Letterman joked that this list was "for Boston only; it's being blacked-out everywhere else.)

Oct. 22, 2004 (read by Curt Schilling--this one had to be tough for Dave to swallow)
Top Ten Reasons for the Boston Red Sox Comeback

10.  Unlike the first three games, we didn't leave early to beat the traffic.
9.    We put flu virus in Jeter's Gatorade.
8.    Let's just say Pete Rose made some phone calls for us.
7.    We asked Pokey Reese to be a little less Pokey.
6.    It's not like we haven't won a big game before -- it's just been 86 years.
5.    Honestly, I think we were tired of hearing about the Patriots.
4.    The messages of encouragement Martha [Stewart] sent on prison napkins.
3.    We pretended the baseball was Letterman's head.
2.    What'd you expect -- we have a guy who looks like Jesus!
1.     We got Babe Ruth's ghost a hooker and now everything's cool. 

Summer 2002 (from monologue)
"The Boston Red Sox once again, in order to avoid that costly World Series parade, will have their customary second-half swoon."
(He was right)

July 10, 2002 (a week after Ted Williams' death and the news his son and younger daughter were freezing his body)
Top Ten Little-Known Facts About Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig
3. Refuses to recognize Ted Williams as the top cryogenically-frozen ball player of all time.

May 21, 1999

Top Ten Things You Don't Want To Hear From a Fenway Park Hot Dog Vendor

10.  As my own tribute the Boston Tea Party, I spat in the mustard.
9.   These hot dogs are the real green monsters, right?
8.   If you find a Band-Aid in there -- it's mine.
7.   Try my Buckner Special -- one that was between my legs.
6.   See you in Mass. General, jackass.
5.   Hot dogs are a dollar -- backrubs are fifty cents.
4.   The meat for these things came from an MIT science project.
3.   If you eat this thing, your nickname better be "Old Ironsides."
2.   This hot dog wins the World Series of maggots.
1.   Remember:  1 if by salmonella, 2 if by trichinosis.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seeking power boost, Red Sox bring Mike Napoli's mom west

Mom's mojo: Napoli and Donna Torres

Red Sox manager John Farrell took one look at the numbers after yesterday's 6-3 win at Toronto and called GM Ben Cherington into his office. A few minutes later the pair emerged with an announcement for the assembled media before the trip to Oakland.

After Mike Napoli's 3-run homer in the first inning, just his third all season, Boston was making a roster move: Napoli's mother, Donna Torres, would he heading to California on the team charter and given a ticket to all seven games in Oakland and Seattle.

"Even with his sleep apnea issues fixed, Mike hasn't been hitting a lick this season," Farrell said of Napoli, whose average was at .165 entering Sunday. "Then his mom, shows up, and he homers his first time up. That woman is just what we need to get his bat back to where we know it can be."

With Torres on hand, Napoli was pumped again.

The statistics certainly seem to back up Farrell's confidence. Donna Torres has been on hand live for Mother's Day games in nine of the 10 seasons that her son has played in the big leagues, and Napoli has rewarded her loyalty by going 14-for-33 with three homers and four doubles on those occasions. He's 5-for-10 with two doubles and two homers in his three Mom's Day contests with the Red Sox.

"Mom is better than any rabbit's foot or lucky underwear you can find," said Napoli. "John and Ben figure if we have her in the stands all the time, maybe I'll hit like it's Mother's Day every day."

If the Red Sox expect to get back in the AL East pennant race, they will have to hope that Torres can work her magic.    


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hanley Ramirez homering at record pace for Red Sox -- will weak pitching make it moot?

That ball is gone -- and so is the helmet. (AP)

Jimmie Foxx never did it. Neither did Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, or Mo Vaughn.

When Hanley Ramirez smoked a R.A. Dickey pitch into the left-field Monster seats at Fenway Park last night, it marked his 10th home run of April. Ramirez is tied atop the majors in homers with Nelson Cruz of Seattle, and just one player in Red Sox history has ever hit that many in the season's first month: David Ortiz in 2006.

That was the year Ortiz set a team record with 54 homers, but his prodigious slugging was not enough to save a pitching-thin Boston team from a third-place finish. Ramirez may meet a fate similar to his Dominican countryman this summer.

Although Rick Porcello pitched seven two-hit innings against the heavy-hitting Blue Jays last night in a 4-1 win, Red Sox starters have the worst ERA of any rotation in the major leagues.  

Slugger's Hug: Ortiz greets Ramirez. (USA Today)

Still, while pitching remains a major concern for Boston, Ramirez has quickly become a fan favorite with his prodigious slugging.

In addition to his 10 homers through 20 games, he is also tied with Cruz atop the AL with 22 RBI, while his .659 slugging percentage and .999 OPS place him among the Top 5. To put his hot start in perspective, Ramirez hit just 13 homers all of last season, and he is already nearly one-third of the way to his career high of 33 (set in 2008).

Making his performance all the more exciting is how he's doing it. Ramirez has a robust swing that often causes his helmet to fly off, and he has run out several home runs this year -- including last night's shot -- with nothing atop his colorful cornrows but a skull cap.

He did wrap a homer around the Pesky Pole on Tuesday night, but most of Hanley's howitzers have been no-doubters that fly off his bat even faster than they are delivered by the pitcher. Ramirez's Wednesday shot was estimated to have traveled 106 mph from the plate to the Monster seats, and some are predicting he could hit 50 for Boston hitting in a stacked lineup with Ortiz and fellow newcomer Pablo Sandoval.

Will an offense be enough? (Boston Globe)

The big question is whether all of these hitters will be enough to offset an ace-less Boston rotation that has had trouble getting through the middle of games. Porcello is the only Red Sox starter averaging six or more innings per game, and the team predicted by many to be a World Series contender is a so-so 12-10.

Red Sox fans hope that Rodriguez not only keeps knocking them out, but that come August and September his home runs will still have meaning as Boston seeks a return to the playoffs.

Friday, April 24, 2015

John Farrell on new Red Sox plan: Just singles and homers

Must be runners in scoring position.

Having lost 4 of 6 games and saddled by a .196 average with runners in scoring position (RISP) -- 13th in the American League -- the Red Sox will be instituting a new offensive game plan starting with tonight's contest at Baltimore. 

No matter where and how far Boston batters hit the ball within the confides of Camden Yards, they will stop at first base -- thus preventing the next hitter from having to bat with a runner in scoring position. Farrell calls it the "RISP Revenge" offense.

Sox batters will continue to run out home runs, and once a batter gets a hit other than a homer with a man on first, the team will return to its "normal" offense and hope for the best.

Chili is red hot mad at what he sees.

"There is just something about seeing those guys at second and third that is rattling our guys at the plate," says Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We're hoping without the pressure of knocking someone in, our hitters will raise their productivity up a notch."

The unorthodox move by Farrell comes amidst growing concerns about the much-hyped Boston offense. The season is just 16 games old, but despite adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to their lineup,  the Red Sox have not yet seen the expected uptick in production. 

The team batting average after 16 games is .230, which Gordon Edes of points out is its lowest to this point of the season since 1992 -- when Butch Hobson's last-place club hit just .246 all year. Tom Brunansky led that punchless crew with 15 homers and 71 RBI, and the team home run total was an anemic 84. 

"I know we can hit, and we're going to hit," says Boston's first-year hitting coach Chili Davis. "When that sun is shining bright and it warms up, we'll be sitting pretty. Until then, we figure we'll try something new to get us rolling."

I'm hitting .210, but you should see my new car. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

One more (new) reason to love and respect Pedro Martinez

Cherington gets his man. (Getty Images)

The ceremony honoring former Boston College centerfielder and "Ice Bucket Challenge" pioneer Peter Frates before Monday's home opener at Fenway Park was a wonderful touch by Red Sox management, as Frates signed a professional baseball contract with Sox GM Ben Cherington to the delight of a packed house. 

Actually, it was Pete's wife, Julie, who signed the contract. Frates can no longer write due to the ALS that has ravaged his body, but that didn't stop him from smiling while the crowd roared its approval.

There was just one problem with the event, and it came when the long line of current Red Sox players passed by Frates' wheelchair with autographed jerseys. The jerseys, each of them bearing the #3 Frates  wore at BC, had been donned by the team during a spring training game with the Eagles.

While the Sox contingent exchanged hugs, handshakes, and kind words with Julie and others in Pete's family, the man of the hour was seated a few feet back and below eye level from the players. As a result, he had no contact with most of them as they quickly walked by. Rather than hand him their #3 jerseys or drape them across or near his wheelchair, the players were instructed to place them on a table far to his right.

My wife, who has worked with paralyzed patients in wheelchairs for 25 years, noticed this right away. "Somebody should really have put him in better position, and shown those guys how to approach him," Michelle said. 

Even Ortiz looked unsure around Frates. 

She added that the players were likely nervous, unsure whether they would hurt the now-frail Frates if they were to reach out, so most played it safe by keeping their distance.  A few touched a hand to his shoulder, but the well-meaning gestures seemed tentative. 

I was beginning to wish Michelle had not pointed this all out to me when suddenly the roar of the crowd went up several notches. Emerging from the Boston dugout was one more player wishing to pay his respect to Frates -- legendary pitcher and new Hall of Fame inductee Pedro Martinez.

Waving to the crowd, his smile as broad as the guest of honor's, Martinez approached the Frates family and paused to talk with and hug each of them. He took his time, and the exchanges seemed much more poignant than the hurried embraces from the conga line of players that had come before.

First Pete's family gets a hello.

Then Pedro neared Frates' wheelchair. He leaned over, spoke a few words, and grabbed Pete in a bear hug. There was no hesitation -- just respect and love for a fellow ballplayer.

As I watched the scene unfold, I thought back a couple years to when members of the 2004 World Series champion Red Sox visited patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Although all of the players were a hit in the clinics, Martinez had a sincere warmth and playfulness about him that delighted kids and adults alike. 

Now, in front of 37,000 people, he was at it again -- showing compassion to a man facing a a frightening future.

Like Lou Gehrig, for whom ALS gained its second name, Pete Frates most certainly got a tough break. But at that moment, in the arms of a legend, he felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Nice job, Pedro.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Buchholz, Pedroia bashers seek new tagets after Opening Day

 Been there, done that -- Pedroia after No. 2. (AP)

One was a former MVP prematurely past his prime, his offensive moxie gone thanks to hand injuries and years of over-zealous play. The other was the ultimate tease -- a pitcher with all the stuff in the world but an inability to stay healthy or hungry.

Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz were two big Red Sox question marks during the offseason, with naysayers taking to the sports talk radio airwaves to lament about Pedroia's wilting power numbers and Buchholz's status as an unreliable No 3 starter anointed as a No. 1 purely out of necessity.

Monday night, however, the cynics were noticeably quiet after Boston's 8-0 Opening Day win at Philadelphia. Buchholz's seven shutout innings (with nine strikeouts) were certainly ace-like, while Pedroia was 3-for-5 with two homers from the No. 2 spot in the batting order.

Clay's Day -- Buchholz flattens the Phils.

Manager John Farrell noted after the game that Pedroia's success was no surprise given the additional " freeness in his swing" Farrell noticed during spring training. Last year Pedroia didn't hit his second home run until Mother's Day, and had just 7 all season; if he can get back to the 15- to 20-homer/.850 OPS numbers he displayed in 2008-11, it will provide a huge boost to Boston's offense.

Defense has never been a concern with Pedroia, and the reigning Gold Glove winner was at it again with two great diving plays in the opener. It was, however, the first time in four years that he's had a two-homer game.

Petey brought his glove to work too.

As for Buchholz, the slim right-hander did a lot to silence those who worried he would fail in replacing former Sox ace Jon Lester atop the rotation. Of his 94 pitches, 65 were strikes, and he had his great curveball and change-up working in addition to a 92-mph fastball. 

Buchholz was efficient and dominant, two traits he displayed in streaking to a 9-0 start in 2013 before missing three months with a shoulder injury. He outpitched Phillies ace (and Red Sox rumor-mill favorite) Cole Hamels, who lasted just 5 innings, as well as Lester, who couldn't make it through the fifth in losing his first start for the Cubs on Sunday night.

So with Pedroia and Buchholz both clicking, who can the naysayers turn to now? How about Mookie Betts and his ridiculous near-.450 spring training average, or the over-paid, over-hyped Hanley Ramirez?
Two HR for Hanley -- this one a granny (Globe)

No, that's not going to work either. Betts (2-for-4, 1 HR, 2 runs) and Ramirez (2-for-4, 2 HR, 5 RBI) did pretty well Monday too.

Better make it David Ortiz then. The DH-turned-first baseman was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the opener, and this will most certainly be the year age finally creeps up on Big Flabby.

At least for a day.