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Friday, September 26, 2014

Five creative ways Red Sox can honor Derek Jeter Sunday

Jeter and the Monster -- one more time (Daily News)

The stat came across my Facebook feed last night courtesy of my friend Kevin Vahey, a veteran cameraman at Fenway Park and countless other venues -- who, I suppose, picked it up from the pre-game press notes at Fenway or Yankee Stadium:

Most Games at Fenway Park by Yankee Players (regular season and playoffs):

Lou Gehrig: 152
Mickey Mantle: 152
Derek Jeter: 151

Since neither Gehrig or Mantle played any postseason contests in Boston -- the Sox and Yanks never met in the playoffs until 1999 -- it is safe to say that no Yankee player has ever taken part in more important games at Fenway that Derek Jeter. This includes the epic ALCS battles of '99, 2003, and 2004, contests when the the Athens-Sparta rivalry reached its all-time high. And despite the sightings of "A-Rod Sucks" and "Jeter Swallows" t-shirts side-by-side on Yawkey Way during those years, it's hard to imagine a Yankee player ever garnering more respect from Boston fans than that currently enjoyed by  #2 in this weekend's visitor's scorecard.

So while I'm disappointed to hear that Jeter won't be playing shortstop for the season's final otherwise meaningless weekend -- he declared after last night's walk-off hit that he wanted his last game at short to be at Yankee Stadium -- I do hope he gets in the box score on both Friday and Saturday. This would give the Sox an opportunity to present him with a gift far more unique than a Fenway seatback or a tin number from the Green Monster (both of which they gave last fall to retiring Yankee relief ace Mariano Rivera):

1.  A plaque with a chunk of dirt taken from the shortstop area at Fenway Park and an inscription reading: 
Most games played at Fenway Park by Yankee Players (Regular Season and Playoffs):

1. Derek Jeter 
2. Lou Gehrig
3. Mickey Mantle   

Events Maestro Dr. Charles Steinberg and Co. could have the plaque inscribed and ready to give Jeter in what is being billed as a "low-key" ceremony before Sunday's game, provided he played Friday and Saturday to get up to 153 Fenway games. Then again, if he plays Friday or Saturday they could still give it to him, since 152 games would tie him with Lou and The Mick and perhaps induce him to play in the finale.

I'm sure the Yankee captain would appreciate the gesture, and besides, how many cars and golf clubs and cowboy boots with the #2 on them can one guy need? Since Fenway is the last stop on the Jeter Farewell Tour, Red Sox management has a chance to show some real creativity. The over-the-top ribbing of Rivera in his Fenway ceremony last September (when the Sandman's blown save in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS got top billing) was not appreciated by Yankee fans or media types. This would be applauded by all as a class move.

 Here are four more ideas that would please everyone and give Jeter the sendoff he deserves:

2.  Invite back the other eight Yankees in the starting lineup for Jeter's first game at Fenway on July 15, 1996, and have them suit up and take their positions before the game -- leaving a hole for Jeter at shortstop.
Bring back Bernie and Co.

Jeter led off that day for New York, going 2-for-4 with a double and run scored in an 8-6 Yankees loss. The full lineup In order: Jeter (SS), Bernie Williams (CF), Paul O'Neill (RF), Darryl Strawberry (DH), Tino Martinez (1B), Mariano Duncan (2B), Jim Leyritz (C),Gerald Williams (LF), and Andy Fox (3B). If this group were to take their spots on the Fenway diamond, Jeter would likely feel compelled to jog out and fill the gap at short -- if only for a minute.

3.  Before Jeter's first at-bat, play a recording of longtime Yankee Stadium PA announcer Dave Sheppard calling him to the plate. 
Pipe in the Voice of God. (ABC News)

Sheppard was the "Voice of God" at the Stadium for 56 years, lending his famous and dignified  tone to the proceedings from Mickey Mantle's first game there in 1951 through late in the 2007 season. Jeter had the presence of mind to ask Sheppard to record his introduction -- "Now batting for the Yankees, Number Two, Derek Jeter, Number Two..." and it has been re-played for all Jeter home at-bats since Sheppard's retirement (he died in 2010 at age 99). 

"That's the only voice I ever heard growing up," New Jersey native Jeter explained of his request to Sheppard. "That's the only voice I wanted to hear announced when I was at home." Since Jeter's last game should have been at home anyway -- what were the schedule-makers thinking? -- perhaps he wouldn't mind hearing it in his last road contest.

4.  A framed plaque with a ticket stub from the July 15, 1996 game and the Sept. 28, 2013 contest.
Yours on EBay for $14.95

Even if Jeter doesn't play Sunday, it will be his last game in uniform -- and meaningful none the less. By the way, that $9.00 bleacher seat now goes for $40.00.

5.  A gold-plated lifetime pass to Fenway Park, bearing the inscription: "This pass enables Derek Jeter free entrance to Fenway Park for all games, with the provision that he not  play in any of them if a playoff berth is on the line."
Come on back and see us -- but don't play.

This would give the Red Sox a cute way to rib Jeter about his role in so many big Yankee moments at Fenway, and the desire for Boston management to make sure he doesn't add any more to the list.

What can Jeter give to Boston during his send-off weekend? Even one inning at shortstop would be great, but short of that I am guessing Sox fans wouldn't mind a line-drive single to right or even a home run.

Providing, of course, that it came with the home team safely ahead.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reasons to keep watching the Red Sox (including the chance to ruin New York's October)

Heart of the (new) order. (NY Post)

Six chances to help do in the Yankees' Wild Card chances -- starting with a 9-4 whipping last night -- is one reason to pay attention to the last-place Red Sox this September in between Patriots games. Here are some more:

The Clutch Kid
It's Yoenis' world. (Boston.com)

Seeing Jon Lester in green and yellow hurts, but the wonderful clutch hitting of Yoenis Cespedes has made it a bit easier to take. Entering last night, Cespedes had hit .382 with runners in scoring position and five game-tying or go-ahead hits in the 7th inning or later to tie him with David Ortiz for the club lead -- after just a month with the team! Last night he went 3-for-5 with his 24th RBI in 29 games for Boston, and he now has 91 overall for the year -- just four behind his new teammate Ortiz and among the American League's Top 10.

Yoenis has a pretty good outfield arm too, as the numerous runners he's nabbed at home plate and elsewhere can attest.

Young Gloves

The guy can chuck it. (Getty Images)

The rookies the Red Sox have brought up this year have all struggled at one time or another at bat, but their defense -- especially that turned in by late-season additions Christian Vazquez and Mookie Betts -- has been terrific. Betts has turned in some leaping, highlight-worthy grabs during his on-the-job training in center field, and Vazquez has been a delight at catcher. His quick throws to first base for pick-offs and to second and third to nab would-be base stealers are the best Boston has seen from behind the plate since  Gold Glover Tony Pena passed through town in the early 1990s. 


With an even more highly-touted catching prospect in Blake Swihart coming up behind him, Vazquez may not be here long -- and Betts could also be trade bait with Boston's 2015 outfield already crammed with potential starters Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, and new Cuban signee Rusney Castillo. Of course if Betts keeps hitting like he did last night against New York -- 3-for-5 with a home run -- he'll make that decision much harder.


The Starting Pitching Puzzle
Is Ranaudo for real? (NESN.com)

Will Clay Buchholz continue his recent channeling of early 2013? Will Anthony Ranaudo continue showing he has the stuff to join the 2015 rotation? Will Allen Webster work his way into the mix? Will Tuesday's winner Joe Kelly put together some more victories? A lot of question marks remain on this young staff, and how some of them get answered in the weeks to come may determine who Boston pursuits for its 2015 rotation -- including a possible push to get back Lester.  

Papi's Pursuit
Soon to be No. 2?

Cespedes may be the next David Ortiz when it comes to clutch hitting, but the real dude is not about to give up his spot as top dog in the lineup just yet. Despite batting third in one of the most anemic offenses in Red Sox history, Big Papi has a legitimate shot at the AL RBI title with 95 through last night. He already has 30 homers, so when he reaches the century mark in runs batted in it will mark his eighth 30-100 season with Boston -- and break his tie with Ted Williams for the most such years in franchise history. 

It will be real fun if Ortiz and Cespedes both are in the running for the RBI crown heading into the final 10 games of the year -- especially if they continue to bat third and fourth in the Boston lineup.

The Castillo Countdown 
Coming to Fenway soon. (AP Images)

Management has said Castillo (signed to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract in late August) will play as long as possible for Boston's minor league teams -- several of which reached the postseason -- but Ben Cherington would also like to get the Cuban defector his first taste of MLB play before year's end. If and when Castillo does reach the Boston lineup in September, it will be exciting to see what the guy can do against top-notch pitching. Remember, Castillo had not played any organized baseball for a year and a half before his first game with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox last week (when he had an RBI single). 


Spoiler Alert
Brett Gardner is NOT happy. (Newsday)

Wins this month mean nothing in terms of Boston's postseason chances, but they mean an awful lot to some of the teams they are playing. The Yankees and Rays are still battling for their playoff lives, and the Royals would much rather make it in as Central Division champs than face a one-and-done situation as a Wild Card. In addition to ending a sour year on a sweet note, the Red Sox also have a chance to salvage some pride rather than roll over. I don't advocate putting in a dizzy Dustin Pedroia to win, but if they can salvage a winning month with a young, piece-meal lineup, it would make 2014 just a little easier to swallow.