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Monday, July 3, 2017

In Elite Era for RF, All-Star Mookie Betts Holds His Own

Betts was all smiles north of the border.

Does Mookie Betts belong in the same class as Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge when talk turns to baseball's top right fielders? Ask Blue Jays fans who had their Canada Day weekend ruined by the newly-named All-Star.

After performing for two months this season below the Silver Slugger offensive standard he set as the American League MVP runner-up in 2016, Boston's five-tool standout has heated up -- capped by a 4-for-6, 2-homer, 8-RBI performance Sunday as Boston completed a weekend sweep of the Jays.

Since his average fell to .261 on June 2, Betts has hit .330/.406/.583 over his past 28 games to help the Red Sox to an 18-10 record and first place in the East. He's scored 24 runs during that period, thanks in large part to 11 doubles and 6 homers, and has contributed his usual Gold Glove defense.

Betts does like Dewey.

His efforts Sunday even gave Betts a franchise record: most RBI in one game by a leadoff hitter. He leads the AL with 27 doubles, and if you factor in his 15 stolen bases, he's now on pace for a 30-homer, 30-steal, 100-RBI season.

It would be ridiculous to claim anybody other than Judge was the league's top player for the first half of 2017, and even the biggest Red Sox fan would admit Mike Trout was a deserving MVP pick over Mookie last year.

But in an era stacked with outstanding right fielders like Judge, Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Toronto's Jose Bautista, Betts is every bit as deserving of an All-Star nod as the rest.

Now Joe Dombrowski needs to figure out how to sign the 24-year-old superstar to a long-term contract. Betts has been working on one-year deals so far, but this could lead to an astronomical payday when he's free agent-eligible after the 2020 season.

Not since the Aaron-Clemente-Kaline days of the 1960s has the right field position been this stacked. Those Hall of Famers all played at least 15 years with their original team, and it would be great if Betts could too.







Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Red Sox pitcher who helped me get through the 2017 Boston Marathon

Snow couldn't stop him either. (Robert Bukaty, AP)

When I tightened my laces one last time and walked toward the starting line of the 2017 Boston Marathon on April 17, I was 15 days into my second half-century and about to run far further than I ever had in my life. The thermometer was pushing a dangerous 70 degrees, but I had a secret weapon I was counting on to get me from Hopkinton to Copley Square.

A pitcher in my pocket.

Before leaving my office the previous Friday, I grabbed something off my desk -- a baseball card that has leaned up against my monitor for the last decade or so. It's a 2002 "Future Stars" card of Greg Montalbano, a left-handed pitcher who had been named the top minor league hurler in the Red Sox system the previous season. Greg's sister, Kristen, was my colleague in the Dana-Farber Communications office for several years, but that's not why I keep the card there.

The card was a reminder of why I've been a writer and editor at Dana-Farber for the past 18 years. In helping chronicle the clinical care and research going on there, I'm spreading the word and generating attention to the disease. which will hopefully translate into research funding that ends it. It's also why I was running the marathon -- in addition to fulfilling a lifelong dream (I grew up on Heartbreak Hill), I was hoping to raise $10,000 or more for research at Dana-Farber. Thanks to many of you, I had already done so by race day, for which I am deeply grateful.

All well and good, but what does this have to do with a minor league pitcher? Only everything.



Greg Montalbano had the drive and talent to become the first Massachusetts-bred Red Sox pitching ace since the Kennedy administration. A Westborough native who starred at St. John's Prep and Northeastern University, he overcame a bout with testicular cancer diagnosed his freshman year of college to pitch a no-hitter as a senior -- the same year (1999) he was drafted by the Red Sox. 

Success continued in the minors, where after splitting 2000 between the Gulf Coast League and Single A Lowell, Montalbano has a breakthrough 2001 season. He was a combined 12-6 for Sarasota and Double A Trenton, with 122 strikeouts in 139.1 innings, and appeared on the fast track to Fenway Park. 

The Red Sox have a special connection to Dana-Farber and its Jimmy Fund charity dating to the 1950s, so I figured between Montalbano's toughness and Boston-area roots, and my small personal ties to his family, his card would provide plenty of good karma for the marathon. It would also serve as a way of honoring all the pediatric and adult patients -- many of whom I've written about through the years -- who have received treatment and care at Dana-Farber.

So a plan was hatched. In addition to covering my bib with the names of family, friends, and colleagues impacted by cancer, I'd have one more talisman to salute those for whom I was running. Before heading to the starting line, I stuck Greg's card in the back pocket of my shorts.

Remembering many on race day.

A few weeks before, I was not even certain I'd make it to the starting line. A knee injury had kept me off the road for a month. Excellent advice and encouragement from Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team coach Jack Fultz, my friend and life coach Debra Bennett of Core Harmony, and the magic hands of Emily Bliss, PT, and her colleagues at Marathon Physical Therapy in Newton Corner all contributed to getting me back on the road.

The race-day strategy Jack devised for me was to employ the "Run-Walk-Run" running method developed by long-distance guru Jeff Galloway. The idea is to run three minutes, walk briskly for one, and then run for three more -- repeating the process for all 26.2 miles. This would cause less pounding on my bad knee and preserve my energy, hopefully making up for the long training runs I had missed.

Jack won the 1976 Boston Marathon on a 100-degree day, so he knows something about conserving body fuel. I gave the Galloway Method a try during some last-month training runs, and it worked like magic. Walking one of every four minutes, I was actually significantly faster overall for each mile completed. I couldn't believe my watch.

On race day, however, something happened. More than 40 years of desire to be doing just this -- fueled first by a childhood spent handing out water to marathoners as they crested Heartbreak Hill, and then by decades spent dreaming of joining their ranks -- took over. The first three minutes came and went, and I did not switch to a walk. Before I knew it the first mile marker was coming up and I was still running -- and at a terrific pace. I was usually a 10-minute miler, but I did the first one in well under nine.

Did I listen to Jack, the '76 champ? Nope.

Everything I had been taught by Jack and others told me this was a mistake. You don't go out too fast in a marathon, and you most definitely don't do it if you're running on a knee that could give out at any time. But the crowds were so enthusiastic, I felt so great, and I kept thinking about Greg Montalbano and how he didn't let cancer slow him down in his desire to make the Red Sox.

I decided to devise a new plan. I would walk, but only for about 30-45 seconds while grabbing water from the wonderful volunteers set up just past each mile marker. I would drink one small cup, pour the other over my head (a great idea from Jack I did follow, thankfully), and then tap the card in my back pocket and start running again.

As the miles accumulated, the plan worked like a charm. By the 10-mile mark I was on pace to finish the race in well under four and a half hours, and I didn't feel the least bit tired. The heat that was clearly bothering other runners seemed to have no effect at all on me, and every time I felt like slowing down I would just reach back and give a TAP-TAP to the pitcher in my pocket. Greg's strength gave me strength.

While passing the screaming women of Wellesley College at the half-way mark, I noticed my times begging to slow. Soon I was no longer on pace to finish in under 4:30:00, but figured my original goal of under 5:00:00 hours would be a cinch. I still felt great, and now -- passing my brothers, my sister, and other family and friends gathered along the course to cheer me on -- I couldn't help breaking into a silly grin every half-mile or so. Even in the hills of my hometown Newton, which Jack had implored me to walk, I kept running.

A Smiling Fool ... Before the Wall.

My wife Michelle and daughter Rachel were waiting a block from our house at Mile 20 (just before Heartbreak Hill) and my parents and son Jason were at Mile 22 (just after it). So like a madman, I just kept grinning like an idiot, and as I hugged them all and headed toward B.C. I swear I was almost laughing. When the crowds got real large and raucous around Cleveland Circle, I gestured with both arms for them to yell louder -- which they did. I high-fived kids and enjoyed creative posters like "Find a cute butt and follow it to the finish!"

Before I could take this advice, however, I ran into trouble. As Jack and others had warned, the course sneaked up on me. The straight and mostly flat two-mile stretch of Beacon Street through Washington Square and Coolidge Corner seemed to go on for hours, and my legs became leaden tree trunks. If I stopped running at this point, I worried, I might not be able to start up again. More and more others, worn down by the earlier sun and the Newton hills, had reached their breaking point already.

When one guy near me staggered to the sidelines and plopped down on a lawn chair, apparently done for the day, my mind veered a bit off-course as well to a Stephen King novella I last read about a decade ago. "The Long Walk" is set in a dystopian near-future USA; a group of 100 teenage boys are selected from a list of willing applicants for an annual test of mental and physical endurance. They must walk day and night with no rest across the highways of Maine and New Hampshire toward Boston, with the winner promised riches beyond belief (hence the willing applicants), There is one caveat, however: anyone who dips below four miles an hour more than three times during the walk is shot on sight by soldiers.

Visions of Ray Garraty danced in my head.


Amazing myself by remembering the protagonist's name -- "Maine's own Ray Garraty!" -- I tried to channel some more of his and Greg Montalbano's grit.

TAP-TAP.

In the end it was arm injuries and not cancer that derailed Montalbano's path to Fenway Park. Set to pitch for Triple A Pawtucket in 2002, he suffered a frayed labrum (cartilage disc) in his pitching shoulder during spring training that required season-ending surgery. Arm injuries cost him most of 2003-04 as well, and when he did pitch he was ineffective. By 2005 the Red Sox brass felt they had been patient long enough, and Montalbano was released in spring training. He was 26. .

By now I was most definitely walking, no doubt slow enough to get a bullet from Stephen King's soldiers. I was also starting to get my first real doubts that I could finish in 5:00:00 hours, Then I heard a yell of "Hey Saul!" over my left shoulder. This was no typical fan cheering me on after reading my name off my legs, arms, or singlet, but a yell of familiarity. It was coming from the side of the course nearest the C-Line trolley, a stretch closed off to fans, and when I turned toward it I saw my high school buddy and frequent Red Sox seat-mate Scott chugging along behind the barriers with a smile and a wave. In no mood for talking, Appreciative beyond belief, but in no mood for talking, I managed a few stammered sentences of thanks as he continued alongside me for about a half-mile.

"YOU GOT THIS!" he screamed, but I still wondered.

The Mile 23 and Mile 24 checkpoints came and went, each marked with one cup for the head and one cup for the lips, I bucked convention and did my best not to walk as I poured; Scott's visit had given me a boost, but I still wasn't sure what would happen if I stopped again -- and I don't want to find out. The soldiers might be waiting.

TAP. TAP.

No other big-league team signed Montalbano, but he found new baseball life as a reliever for the Independent League Worcester Tornadoes of the Canadian-American League. Perhaps, he must have thought, he could get another crack at the majors.


Montalbano's story took another twist with Tornadoes.

Then the cancer came back.

By now Montalbano had been through so much that he didn't feel like stopping even if his body was again betraying him, and who could blame him? He continued pitching as well as ever through his treatment, recovery, and another remission, and earned a level of respect from teammates, fans, and coaches normally befitting a Hall of Famer. Perhaps being treated like Pedro Martinez went to his arm; he had an ERA of 3,13 in 2006, and 1.80 in 2007 (when he returned to being a starter).   

The downhill from Coolidge Corner toward Kenmore Square was a Godsend, and suddenly I was looking at the same view I've seen thousands of times driving into work and ballgames. Just past where the C-Line trolleys make their descent underground, Beacon Street takes a last rise to pass over the Mass. Pike and into the square. Overland Street, my office, and Fenway Park are on the right, Boston University's Metcalf Science Center is on the left, and in the middle is by far the most beautiful thing I'd seen all day:

The Citgo Sign.

"HERE HE COMES!! GO SAUL!! GO  SAUL!!"

This is where I reached sudden and very fleeting rock star status. Halfway across the small bridge leading into Kenmore Square is the official viewing spot for the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) team. Many of my colleagues from Dana-Farber Communications were gathered there, along with Jan Ross and her amazing Dana-Farber Running Programs staff and dozens of pediatric cancer "patient partners" awaiting their DFMC runners. I looked over at the sea of waving posters, and noticed at least 10 were covered with my name in big block letters and even bigger blow-ups of the photo from my DFMC donation pager. As I high-fived as many familiar faces as I could, my legs no longer felt nearly so heavy.

Memory of a rock star moment.

The whole wonderful moment lasted no more than 10 seconds before I was back to being another anonymous charity runner struggling to the finish. My jog slowed to a not-so-fast walk as the course met back up with Comm Avenue, passed through the square, and then dipped down and under Massachusetts Ave. The right turn on Hereford Street and left onto Boylston were all that remained.

Then I looked down at my watch, and my eyes widened as the numbers become clear.

4:55:00.

CRAP!

How in hell was I going to make it in under five hours now? I wasn't, obviously, not with a half-mile left and a pace that has gone from 9:40 to 10:40 to 11;40 miles since Natick. By ignoring Jack's advice to use the 3-1-3 Galloway Method at least through the first half of the race, I had cost myself the chance at finishing in the range of middle-aged, first-timer respectability that had been my goal since starting this endeavor.

Back in high school, as a fledgling half-miler, I drove my track coach Hank crazy by always running the second lap of the two-lap race disproportionately faster than the first. I would pass several other runners in the home stretch, but never catch the leader. Hank kept telling me I'd do much better if I could just go out faster, but I doubted my ability to keep up with the top guys all the way through. Each meet, I'd repeat the pattern.

That was my junior year. I figured there would be a chance to change my ways as a senior, but then the stomach problems that would lead to ulcerative colitis kicked in and I had to quit track. Looking back, I wish I had pushed myself harder to ignore the pain and keep at it. But I was a kid and there were college applications and a million other things to get done -- so I just let it go.

Monty chips in for the Jimmy Fund. (Stan Grosfeld)

Greg Montalbano, I am guessing, never did this. Life threw him more curve balls than any one person deserved in a lifetime, all by his 30th birthday, but he kept heading back to the mound for another crack at it. In my case, while it was clearly too late to win the 1984 Suburban League half-mile,  maybe I could still pull off something here.

I reached back a last time.

TAP. TAP.

And I was off -- cranking up whatever gas I had left and taking the sharp turn onto Hereford.

This was the only part of the course I had not run at least once during training, my superstition telling me that I should lay off such hallowed pavement until Patriot's Day -- when it would be all the sweeter. But now I was in such a frenzy to reach the finish that I couldn't enjoy the huge crowds of screaming fans waving from the street and windows as I zig-zagged around other runners and took the last turn onto Boylston. The finish line was now in my plane of vision.

It wasn't really that close, but I started sprinting toward it. The screaming of the crowd seemed to get louder, and I convinced myself they were yelling for me. I remembered what DFMC veterans told me about looking up to the finish-line camera and striking a pose as I crossed, but there was no time for that now. I was looking straight ahead with tunnel vision. and only as I reached the beautiful blue-and-yellow finish line did I notice the big digital timer with my official time.

5:01:40.

I blew it.

Before I had a moment to start cursing myself, someone was hugging me. It wasn't Michelle, and it wasn't Coach Hank ready to chew me out for waiting too long yet again. It was Uta Pippig, the three-time Boston Marathon women's champion and a friend of Jack and the DFMC team. "Uta, you're fantastic!" I managed to blurt out n surprise, to which she smiled and replied, without missing a beat, "No, YOU'RE fantastic. That was quite a kick."

Uta made me feel like a champ. 

For a second, I felt 10 feet tall, with a full head of hair. Then I remembered the 5:01:40 on the clock and got pissed all over again.

A few minutes later, after picking up my medal and calling Michelle, I spotted Jack. "I didn't listen to you, and I blew it," I told him. He smiled and said I did great, and I felt a bit better Then, when I met up with Michelle and Jason a bit later on, I felt A LOT better.

Michelle had been getting BAA text updates on my time sent to her phone throughout the race, and showed me the last one she had just received, I gasped in disbelief, and then realized what had happened. Because there were so many runners in my wave at the starting line, I did not actually pass it and activate my tracking chip until nearly two minutes after the "official" start. So subtracting that time from the 5:01:40 on the clock, my actual time was...

4:59:51!

I DIDN'T blow it -- and I couldn't wait to tell Jack. When I did, he smiled again and said, "Great, but imagine if you had done the Galloway method?"

He's probably right. More than a month later, I'm still playing it over in my head. If I did follow the run-walk-run plan that had worked so well on those last training runs, maybe I would have finished in closer to 4:30:00 -- or even better.

But like I explained to Jack, I just felt too good to walk, beyond those few seconds at each water stop. And even though walking more might had led to a better time on the clock, I think it would have made my overall experience less enjoyable. People who saw me along the course said I never looked tired or uncomfortable -- and actually appeared to be enjoying myself, even at the top of Heartbreak Hill. The pictures people took bear this out; I'm smiling in all of them.

Still smiling. 

So even though I maybe could have run faster, I could not have had more fun.

Again, I'm only speculating, but I am pretty sure that's what baseball was like for Greg Montalbano those last few seasons in Worcester. He probably knew, at least in the back of his mind, that he wasn't going to make it to the big leagues. But he was playing because he loved the game, and it was still FUN. 

Later, when the cancer finally made pro baseball no longer possible, he still enjoyed himself while working as an engineer and making speaking appearances for Dana-Farber at various events. He made time to be a volunteer assistant baseball coach at St. Johns Prep, and for a South End baseball team, and to educate high school and college students in how to easily check themselves regularly for signs of testicular cancer.

Greg Montalbano died on Aug. 21, 2009, after fighting cancer for 13 of his 31 years. Northeastern retired his number 30, making him the first Huskies player so honored, and the Red Sox had a moment of silence for him before their game against the Yankees at Fenway the next day. Kevin Youkilis, a former minor league teammate of Greg's, wrote "GM" in his cap and had 2 homers and 6 RBI in Boston's 14-1 victory. 

Each season, the Red Sox now give out a Greg Montalbano Minor League Player of the Year Award. Andrew Benintendi won it last year.

Speaking of wins, Boston won on Patriot's Day -- 4-3 over Tampa Bay. The victory went to Steven Wright, but less than a mile from Fenway Park, Greg got the win for me. And now he's back on my desktop, always within eyesight if I need a lift.



Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Red Sox won last night's Fenway marathon - Help me finish mine against cancer

Mile 25 - Before the magic. (Sam Ogden photo)

It took starter Chis Sale, finisher Sandy Leon, and the rest of the Red Sox 12 innings and nearly four hours to beat the Pirates last night at chilly Fenway Park. That's a long baseball game even by today's standards, but I'd love it as a finishing time in my first Boston Marathon -- which I'm running on April 17 as a member of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC).

As the largest charity team in the race, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has more than 500 runners taking on the famous Hopkinton-to-Copley Square course. Each is responsible for at least $5,000 in fundraising, 100 percent of which goes to the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Cancer Research at Dana-Farber. Thanks to many of you, I'm already well past this threshold and am sprinting towards a new finishing-line goal of $10,000 -- part of my team's goal of $5 million.

I'll run longer than Leon, but hopefully as happily. (Boston Globe)  

Running Boston serves as more than just the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, one derailed for decades by ulcerative colitis and revived as a 50th birthday gift to myself. Just as new ace Sale has a mission to pitch the Red Sox back to the postseason, Dana-Farber is committed to curing as many patients as possible -- and helping others live with cancer as a chronic disease rather than a deadly one. In the 18 years I've worked at Dana-Farber, cure rates have improved tremendously for many cancers, but there is still a long way to go.

Who will I be thinking of during my run?

This list is long -- from family gone too soon like Agi Alpert and Michael Carlin to friends who fought with courage, strength, and a will to live as long as they could. Many others are longtime cancer survivors, or those currently in treatment with more challenges ahead. Their hopes and dreams will also be on my mind through the miles, and their names will be on my bib.

Since 1999 I've met and written about dozens of individuals who joined the Dana-Farber team to honor their own loved ones. Many times I've waited at Mile 25 and cheered as the pediatric patient partners high-five and hug their DFMC runners as they reach the edge of Kenmore Square -- just a few hundred yards from Fenway Park and 1.2 miles from the finish. It's an incredibly powerful experience.

Mile 25 Magic -- in progress. (Dana-Farber)

Now I'll be on the other side, pounding the pavement and looking straight ahead to the CITGO sign as friends and colleagues cheer me on. Hearing the yells of "GO DANA-FARBER!" when people spot my distinctive singlet will undoubtedly help propel me throughout the race, but I'll be most counting on it in the hills of Newton. Please "CALL FOR SAUL!" as loud a you can.

There is one other way you can help me reach the finish line. If you have not already, please consider making a gift of any size to support my run, so that when I pass Fenway on Patriot's Day I will do so knowing I've made my goal. Remember, 100 percent of all donations go directly to the Barr Program so that Dana-Farber researchers can uncover new cancer cures. Please help as much as you can.

Thank you in advance for your consideration, and your support -- now and on race day.

Saul

Getting closer... and hopefully warmer.





Friday, October 7, 2016

For David Price, it's time to grab that pick-axe and get yodeling

Price looks to the peak.

Have you ever seen that "Price is Right" game with the little mountain climber? Contestants guess the price of several items, and the guy inches his way up the mountain for every cent they are off -- yodeling all the way. The goal is to be keep him from reaching the top and falling off the other side.

It isn't quite the perfect David Price/Price is Right analogy, but it's close. After last night's 5-4 loss at Cleveland in Game 1 of the ALDS, the Red Sox left-hander needs to deliver the type of "top of the rotation" performance this afternoon that John Henry and Dave Dombrowski had in mind when they shelled out $217 million for him over the winter -- or the Sox will face the arduous task of being down 0-2 as the five-game series shifts to Boston.

Yes, the Red Sox brain trust knew all about Price's 0-7 record and Everest-high ERA in eight postseason starts when they signed him. When asked about it at his first press conference at Fenway Park, the pitcher smiled and said he was saving all his postseason wins for Boston. This got a good laugh from those gathered, but it won't be so funny if he can't start proving it right today.

Price in 2015; ERA champ, playoff chump.

Baseball history is filled with pitchers who performed great in the regular season but bombed in the playoffs. Those who can raise their game when it counts the most are a rare commodity -- which is a big reason Red Sox fans were so upset when the team traded World Series hero Jon Lester in 2014. Madison Bumgarner is an excellent starter for the Giants from April through September, but when October comes he morphs into Sandy Koufax. Guys like that are invaluable.

Rick Porcello was signed to be a No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher, and this year surprised everyone with a Cy Young-worthy season. The fact he delivered his worst start of 2016 last night was maddening, but not entirely shocking. He was so consistent all year, he was almost due a dud -- and the intimidating environment of Progressive Field was a tough place to make your first playoff start in five years.

David Price is in a different situation entirely. He's started postseason games in six of the last seven years, so he shouldn't be rattled by the big stage. He was also brought here to be an ace, and his string of excellent starts in mid-to-late summer was one of the big reasons Boston was able to win the tough American League East. But his sub-par outing against the Yankees in the last week of the regular season helped cost his team home-field in the ALDS, and if they don't win today the Red Sox will need three straight victories to reach the next round -- including a Game 5 back at Cleveland.

Get yodeling, David

Here's why the mountain-climbing metaphor isn't quite perfect. On Price is Right, the idea is actually to have the guy climb as little as possible; the more you're off in your guess, and the higher he goes, the closer he is to toppling off the other side.

If the Red Sox are to scale the mountain to a fourth World Series championship this century, they need David Price to help get them there. What they don't need him to do is deliver the type of disappointing performance that sends them to the brink of elimination,

So for the sake of the analogy, let's just say that the best thing for the team is to keep climbing -- and the first swings of the pick-axe need to come from their ace pitcher.





 

Friday, September 23, 2016

John Farrell reveals secret to Red Sox surge: Bill Belichick

"Warm up Koji in the seventh."

A month ago columnists, talk-show hosts and fans were calling for his head. Now John Farrell looks like a genius and the Red Sox are the hottest team in baseball -- winning the close games they couldn't earlier in the year due (said the naysayers) to his weak in-game managing.

Asked after last night's eighth straight win to explain the turnaround, Farrell dropped a bombshell:  Bill Belichick has been making Boston's strategic moves before, after, and even during games. Phone calls in dugouts, clubhouses, and hotel rooms have kept the two in touch and moved the Red Sox to the verge of the postseason.

It was the Patriots coach, Farrell says, who made the decision to immediately put Koji Uehara into the eighth-inning role -- where he has thrived -- after he came off the disabled list.

Shaw got mad -- and hot -- thanks to Belichick.

To start over-his-head rookie Yoan Mancada over Travis Shaw at third base for a few games, lighting a fire under Shaw -- and a resurgence at the plate.

To stay behind slumping Clay Buchholz, trying him in various spots and keeping his confidence up, so he'd be ready to move back into the starting rotation when needed .

To rest David Ortiz just the right amount so that his feet would hold up and he'd put up the best farewell numbers in MLB history.

A rested Ortiz continues to rake.

To convince Hanley Ramirez to cut down on his home-run swing -- thus leading to more home runs and fewer helmet-flying strikeouts.

To move Dustin Pedroia into the lead-off spot, against the second baseman's wishes, sparking a Laser Show batting spree reminiscent of 2008.

"It's particularly tough when we have games at the same time, like last night, but Bill is such a mastermind that he can make out our lineup at the same time he's going over plays with a rookie quarterback making his first start," says Farrell. "I mean, the guy is a genius."

I wish Bill would call.

Farrell says he decided to come clean about the arrangement because he wanted the world to know just how brilliant a tactician Belichick is -- even if it costs him his job.

"I've been around baseball for 40 years," he says, "but Bill is in a league all by himself."

Make that two leagues.


Friday Fun from Fenway Reflections

Monday, September 19, 2016

Hanley Ramirez aims to bring second World Series to Red Sox (Nope, that's not a misprint)

Brothers in Arms: More celebrating to come?

David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia may be the only everyday players on the Red Sox who also played for Boston's 2007 World Series champions, but there is another guy in the lineup whose performance was a major factor in that title.

No use scouring the '07 lineup on baseballreference,com, you won't find him there.

American League Co-Player of the Week Hanley Ramirez has emerged as the hottest hitter in baseball, with 4 home runs and 9 RBI during a four-game sweep of the Yankees at Fenway this past weekend and 12 homers overall in his last 21 contests. Ramirez is finally fulfilling the expectations that former GM Ben Cherington was hoping for when he signed the free agent in the winter of 2014-15, and his surge has helped Boston to a 3.5-game lead over the second-place Orioles in the tight AL East race entering tonight's showdown in Baltimore,

If Ramirez is able to keep it up, and the Red Sox reach the postseason, it will be the second time he's paid big dividends on Yawkey Way. Back in 2005, after an excellent season in Class AA Portland, he was the key to a trade with the Florida Marlins that brought big right-handed pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell to Boston.

Beckett took a season to acclimate to the American League, but in 2007 he was 20-7 and the ace of a World Series championship Red Sox staff. Lowell, considered a throw-in from Florida in the original trade, was a quiet leader on and off the field whose unexpected offensive resurgence (.324 with 121 RBI) was also central to the '07 title. In fact, Lowell was MVP of that October's World Series, to which Beckett contributed a Game 1 victory.

Lowell delivered in '07 -- now it's Hanley's turn.

So while Cherington may have been forced to resign last summer after the poor performance of Ramirez (a .249 average and brutal defense in left field) and fellow free agent washout Pablo Sandoval, the signing isn't looking quite so bad now, In fact, Ramirez's booming bat and solid work at a new position of first base has been one of this season's greatest surprises.

If Hanley can keep it up for another month, there will be a lot more to celebrate than just a sweep of the Yankees.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Two unlikely heroes are keys to Red Sox winning the AL East

Is Koji back to form? Red Sox fans hope so.

Despite all the firepower in the Red Sox lineup and a revitalized pitching staff led by a likely 20-game winner, two guys with ERAs north of 4.35 who were all but forgotten a few months ago could play a major factor in Boston's playoff chances:

Clay Buchholz and Koji Uehara.

Buchholz was a much-maligned mop-up man earlier in the summer after flaming out as a starter, It was thought that his days in Boston were all but done, his great potential never quite realized due to injuries and inconsistency. From July 2 to July 20, the bullpen outcast did not appear in a game.

Then, suddenly, he had a shot at redemption. After several other relievers failed as eighth-inning setup men, John Farrell gave Buchholz the ball -- and he surprised everyone by embracing the role. Suddenly the Red Sox were not blowing games late, or at least not as often.
Buchholz has earned his teammates' respect.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright's right shoulder injury offered yet another opportunity: the chance for Buchholz to reclaim a spot in the starting rotation. Once again he answered the call, this time with a string of solid performances that sustained the club in the first weeks after Wright went down.

Overall, Buchholz has been one of Boston's best pitchers for two months. In his past 12 appearances, including 4 starts, he has a 2.20 ERA over 32.2 innings, with 22 strikeouts, 8 walks, and a .220 opponent's batting average.

If Wright's not right, the Sox need Clay to stay.

Now, with Wright's problem apparently bigger than initially expected, these developments become every more important. There is a good chance Wright will not return this year, leaving it up to Buchholz to hold down a permanent spot in the rotation -- at least for the remainder of the regular season.

If there is more than just a regular season for Boston in 2016 also depends on Uehara. The game-closing hero of 2013 was not expected to do as much this year, with the Red Sox picking up All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Carson Smith. When Smith suffered a spring-training injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery, Koji stepped in and was up-and-down in the eighth-inning role.

Uehara later filled in admirably as closer when Kimbrel was hurt in July, and Koji looked to be getting on one of his hot streaks in late July when he too went on the DL with a torn pectoral muscle. Like Buchholz, fans wrote off Uehara at this point, especially given his advanced age of 41.

Koji's July injury looked bad.

But just wait a minute...

Koji got through rehab faster than expected, and was brought off the DL this week-- amazingly pitching a perfect eighth inning (with two strikeouts) Wednesday night at San Diego. He threw 11 strikes on 13 pitches and said afterward that he felt great.

Can Koji step back into a setup role, and spell Kimbrel at closer when needed?

Can Buchholz keep turning in stalwart performances in his return from the dead?

The answers to both questions will go a long way in determining the fate of the Red Sox during the next wild 23-game race to the finish.