February 2009

Game 8 of the ALCS

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that headline. I’ll never forget the image of Manny Ramirez parading around the home clubhouse at City of Palms Park in March of 2004, when the Red Sox were playing the Yankees again for the first time since the heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of 2003.

“It’s Game 8,” Ramirez howled over and over again.

So here we were today in Port Charlotte for Game 8 of Sox-Rays, coming off that epic ALCS of a year ago.

In actuality, it was a game that meant absolutely nothing, and that was fortunate for the Red Sox in a game they lost 12-4.

But in reality, the matchup gives us reminders of the great series of a year ago, and also the reality that these two teams will be staring each other in the eye again all year.

This was my first trip to Port Charlotte in seven or eight years, back when the Rangers used to train here. They’ve done a great job sprucing up the place. It used to be, um, not so nice.

The Red Sox had  a representative traveling squad today, which will hardly be the case next week after four-ninths of the starting nine goes to the World Baseball Classic.

Ellsbury, Lowrie, Bay and Bladelli all made the trip.

Highly-regarded prospect Michael Bowden had a tough one, giving up five hits and four runs over 1 2/3 innings. Jason Bay had the toughest day of all, chasing down flyballs he couldn’t see all day in a treacherous sun field. And just for good measure, Bay was plunked in the elbow in his final at-bat. He was fine. And also happy to get out of Port Charlotte.

Saturday, there will be a doubleheader at City of Palms. Seven innings against Northeastern, and then nine big ones against the Reds. Until then …

Just one game today

It was good to get stretched out yesterday with a doubleheader, but just a mere nine innings here at City Of Palms today!

Jon Lester‘s first start of the spring is in progress.

Jason Bay was a story for the Pittsburgh media this morning, as this was the first time the left fielder has seen his former team — the Pirates — since that July 31 afternoon when he was traded for some guy named Manny Ramirez.

Jason was at his self-deprecating best when a reporter noted to him that he went from unheralded in Pittsburgh to the lead on SportsCenter every night.

“Was it the Canadian SportsCenter?” quipped Bay.

In other news, Brad Penny and Jonathan Papelbon both threw 40-pitch BP sessions on the backfield. Papelpon will make his first appearance of the spring on Sunday at Hammond Stadium in a game that will also include Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield.

Nightcap, anyone?

Back here for more baseball. Tim Wakefield and Josh Bard have officially been reunited in game action — albeit in an exhibition — for the first time since that ill-fated night of April 26, 2006. That game was in Cleveland, and Bard had four passed balls in a Sox loss. He was traded five days later and Doug Mirabelli came back in the police escort and all that. You remember.

Anyway, things were much smoother here tonight under the bright lights of Hammond Stadium, in this Red Sox-Twins exhibition. There were no mishaps of any kind in the first inning, though Wakefield did give up a double and walk a batter.

In the second inning, Wakefield’s problems had nothing to do with Bard. He just got hit a little bit. Single, single, RBI single, sac fly, bloop RBI single to right.  Next thing you knew, it was 3-0. But the best part of that inning for Bard is that all but three pitches were with runners on base, so it was a great test to see how he’d handle the knuckler under duress. He did fine.

On to other matters: Dustin Pedroia didn’t waste any time making his presence felt this offseason, ripping a double to left-center in his first at-bat.

For all you basketball junkies out there, I am officially on record as saying that Stephon Marbury is going to be a nice fit with the Celtics. He’s trying to build back his value and his image. What better way of doing so then being a nice piece of a potential championship team? Don’t be a hater. Marbury is going to get the job done in Green.

To demonstrate how much I like basketball, I might go to a sports bar and take in a little Celtics-Clippers (10:30 p.m. EST) action once this fine baseball game is over.

And so 2009 begins — unoficially

Though it won’t match the buzz you will feel at Fenway Park on April 6, when the Red Sox open their season against the Rays, there is at least some excitement here at City of Palms Park, with the Old Towne Team facing off against Boston College.

Ace Josh Beckett fired two perfect innings, striking out two. His first pitch of the season, at 1:02 p.m. ET, was grounded to second off the bat of J.B. MacDonald. Harry Darling had his bat sawed off by Beckett, but the righty deftly caught the looping liner for the out. Mike Augustine hit a soft grounder to short to the third out. The leadoff batter in the second was none other than Sam Shaughnessy, the son of the long-time Boston Globe columnist. I wonder what was going through Dan’s mind as he took in the at-bat in from the press box.Young Sam struck out looking on a nasty 1-2 pitch from Beckett.

The early “almost highlight” of the game came in the bottom of the third when Ortiz launched one to deep right-center. It was going, going and … caught at the warning track.

As we start the top of the fifth, with BC leading 1-0,  we are into Tazawa time. Here is Junichi Tazawa, signed out of the Industrial League of Japan and to a Major League contract back in December.  He is likely to start the at Double-A Portland,but the Red Sox have been impressed by what they’ve seen from him this spring. Against BC, he turned in a swift, 1-2-3 inning.

It must be a pre-exhibition, exhibition game. The Red Sox just sent up batting practice pitcher Ino Guerrero up for an at-bat in the fifth inning. Ino, who is best known for being a close confidant of erstwhile Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, drew a walk. Who would have thought that Guerrero would draw a walk in an exhibition game while Ramirez still doesn’t have a job?

Below is a Brita Meng Outzen photo on Ino being congratulated by hitting coach Dave Magadan after he came out for a pinch-runner.


Guerrero, by the way, is 48 years old, according to a couple of trusty clubhouse sources.

“That was just to
liven up the day a little bit,” Francona said. “I liked the way he got the walk and acted like
he won the World Series. He may get another chance against Northeastern.”

It was like Christmas Day for the beat writers who cover the team, as we were handed copies of the 2009 media guide earlier this morning. Yes, that book will be our bible for the next eight or nine months, you can be sure of that. Snazzy cover this year, with a black and white image of Jim Rice “National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2009” contrasted with a color image of Dustin Pedroia “2008 AL MVP GOLD GLOVE SLIVER SLUGGER AWARD.

Pedroia will play tonight against the Twins. Lugo, Baldelli, Ortiz and Drew are the regulars  today who played behind Beckett.

Penny and Pap air it out

The action at today’s Spring Training workout was on Field 3, where Jonathan Papelbon and Brad Penny threw their first BP sessions of the spring.

Theo Epstein, Terry Francona and John Farrell were among those huddled over to watch, not to mention all the reporters on hand.

Yes, it’s been a slow spring, so Penny facing opposing hitters for the first time since early last September qualified as a nice news item. The righty declared the day a success.

I felt great.
Today, for me, answered a lot of questions mentally and physically,” Penny said. “I
really didn’t know what to expect going out there for the first time but
everything felt great.”

Youk on the offense and Papi

Kevin Youkilis, aside from sporting his new Youk fu facial display, was in a good mood on Sunday as several reporters surrounded his locker.

He is not worked up about the lack of true sluggers beyond David Ortiz.

“I think the
key is if a guy doesn’t hit for a lot of power, the key is, are they giving you
good at-bats? You have a guy like J.D. that can grind out at-bats and take
pitches and he can hit the longball with the best of them. Then you have guys
like Jason Bay, Mike Lowell, all the way down the line, we’re going to grind it
out and have good at-bats. Jed Lowrie is a guy who can give great at-bats. That’s
the key. Just try to have guys who are going to grind it out and we have that. Do
it the the Boston Red Sox way like we’ve done for years, that’s our motto is
grind it out every day.”

And the man they call Youuuuuukkkkkkkk is particularly intrigued by what Ortiz might accomplish with the full health back in his left wrist:

“It’s huge,” Youkilis said. “He
can drive in over 120 runs a year. If he stays healthy and drives in 120, 130,
140 and you have those guys in front of you, Jacoby and Pedey, they’re going to
be on base. There’s a lot of things you can do there.”

And what about silencing the critics?

“David is going
to have a good year if he stays healthy. If he has his confidence, it’s lights
out,” Youkilis said. “The bottom
line with David is I would like David to go out there and honestly go out there
on the field and shut some people up. That’s the best thing to do, for people
who have said, you can’t do it, and he’s getting old, I’d like for him to go
deep in the first three at-bats of the season.”

Grapefruit League rotation; Ortiz returns to practice

We have a pitching order, at least for the first few games.

Ace Josh Beckett will be the first Boston pitcher to take the mound in Spring Training, when he faces Boston College at City of Palms Park on Wednesday afternoon. Tim Wakefield pitches that night at the Twins’ complex.

Jon Lester pitches at home against the Pirates on Thursday, followed by Michael Bowden at Port Charlotte against the Rays on Friday. Lefty Kris Johnson, a Minor Leaguer, starts against Northeastern on Saturday afternoon, and Clay Buchholz pitches that night at City of Palms against the Reds.

And to come back in and answer Julia’s question. David Ortiz’s shoulder is fine. He was back out there taking BP today after missing two days of workouts.

Papi stays inside

For the second straight day, David Ortiz did not participate in outdoor drills with his teammates. Is it Papi’s knee that was surgically repaired after the 2007 season? Is it that left wrist that kept him out for seven weeks last year?

Relax, you Red Sox Nationers. It’s nothing of that sort. Ortiz merely had a bit of a sore shoulder and will be back out there for a full day of drills on Saturday.

“He’s a little better,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
“Actually, a lot better. We held him back one more day. I think he probably just overdid
it the other day a little bit. He’s not a guy that’s probably done a ton of
throwing coming into camp. We go out there and he does the groundballs with
everybody and then he went home and fell asleep on it but I think tomorrow he’ll
be fine. It’s his left shoulder. It’s sore. It’s nothing that anybody has had
any concerns about.”

To give you an idea of how slow camp has been the last few days, Ortiz actually drew a crowd at his locker to talk about the nagging shoulder. He completely downplayed it, saying that he was fine and that he expects to be back on the field tomorrow.

“It’s just the kind of thing that happens and you have to do what you have to do, you know?” Ortiz said.

After the workout, Ortiz, still in workout shorts and a Red Sox sweatshirt, could be seen sitting in the drivers seat of his red ferrari. Nice ride!

In other news, Josh Beckett threw his first live BP of the spring and looked pretty impressive in doing so.

“Thought Beckett
did well,” Francona said. “[He] kept the ball down and stayed in his delivery.”

Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and Justin Masterson were some of the other significant pitchers to face hitters.

Stay tuned Saturday, as Francona will unveil his early Grapefruit League pitching rotation at that time. I know, it doesn’t quite compare to the Kevin Garnett knee injury in terms of news value, but interesting to pent-up Sox fans nonetheless. 

Papelbon rejuvenated

It was interesting today to hear Jonathan Papelbon talk about how utterly spent he was at the end of the ALCS last year, and no, he would not have been able to pitch in Game 7 if a save situation had emerged.

That said, he is fully healthy and looking forward, he said, to becoming the Red Sox’s all-time saves leader. With 113, he currently trails Bob Stanley by 19.

“I feel really
good. Obviously last year, toward the end of the ALCS I was starting to kind of
break down and start to feel the effects of the season and I’m not going to sit
here and deny that I didn’t. For me, it was, I think with our season the way it was, we had a
couple of injuries with our starters. When your starters go down, it tends to
have a domino effect on your bullpen. I think that our bullpen had to pick up a
little bit of extra work, which I don’t think any one of us in our bullpen
weren’t willing and able to do. It’s just that was the effect of it. When you
start picking up extra innings that you’re not used to, you’ve got to kind of
learn kind of use that throttle.”

His unavailability for Game 7: “It was a
situation that, yeah, if we would have gone into extra innings or something, that
might have been a different story. I wanted to be able to pitch in the World
Series and be able to partake in it and not go down and have some injury affect
me from being able to do that.”

On not signing long-term a la Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia: “I’m not
disappointed. I think that this offseason we discussed a long-term deal but it
never really transpired into anything that made both sides happy. I don’t think
that anything really came of it. I think the big thing is that we were able to
come to an agreement with a one-year deal and I think that the Red Sox stepped
up big for me, there’s no question, with that one-year deal.”

“If you would ask
me, of course I would like a long-term deal. there’s no question about it. I’m
not one of those guys who would be willing to give up what I feel that I’m
worth to get that security. I don’t know. I’m just really happy to be where I’m
at right now, especially at this time where the economy is down, baseball is
down, everything is kind of in a little rut right now and for me to be able to
go out there and sign that contract, I feel completely blessed.”

Pedroia says plenty of pop

David Ortiz’s claim that the Red Sox need another big bat does not seem to be a prevailing theme in the clubhouse. In fact, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell almost seemed to take offense to the notion.

Offense is
definitely not the problem. I know David was talking about that yesterday,
saying we need another bat and all that stuff,” said Pedroia. “We don’t need anything. I think
if David is healthy and Mikey is healthy and they perform like they should, and
everyone performs like they should, we should have a better offense than we’ve
had the last two, three years. I think we need to focus on the guys that we
have instead of the guys that we don’t have.”

“I think we were
second in the American League in runs [last year],” said Lowell. “We’ve got some really good players. I
think David had the luxury of hitting in front of Manny for a lot of years. Not
everyone in the big leagues has that luxury and can still put up numbers. If
you look at him, I think he’s in great shape. Whoever is hitting behind him,
you look at our lineup and I think we have five legit guys who can hit 20-plus
home runs. You’ve got the AL MVP that’s probably going to be hitting in front
of David. So he’s going to be in a spot where he can do a lot of damage. May he
walk more? Sure, why not. Manny walked a ton when I hit behind him. His numbers
were still there. So I’m not worried about David having his numbers. I think
David just has to make sure he’s healthy and then he’ll be able to put up his