July 2009

V. Mart will arrive Saturday

Victor Martinez won’t be available for manager Terry Francona tonight, but should be here for tomorrow’s game. It’s obviously a huge trade that will have a tremendous impact on the lineup and keep Jason Varitek fresh down the stretch.

Everyone will miss Justin Masterson, a class individual and a great competitor.

Your thoughts?

Clouds over Fenway

Sitting in my seat here in the Fenway Park press box, there are big clouds engulfing the entire playing field and that is fitting on a day like this.

A New York Times report came out roughly one hour before game-time that David Ortiz was on the list of 104 players who tested positive in survey testing for performance-enhancing drugs back in 2003. Manny Ramirez was also on that list, but he of course was suspended for use of a banned substance earlier this season.

In Boston, the story is Ortiz, who has been one of the most beloved players in franchise history, something that was never more evident then when he was in his two-month slump earlier this season. Remember, this is a man who was endeared enough to get curtain calls for the first four home runs he hit this season.

But where will it go from here? What will Ortiz say after the game?

In his first at-bat today, he cracked a double on the very first pitch he saw. The crowd applause was pretty indifferent when he stepped up for his first at-bat. It was almost like they didn’t know whether to cheer or boo, so it was just kind of like, what I would call, a polite applause.

On his first day of Spring Training this year, David was very outspoken about the whole issue of steroids in baseball. He was disappointed that his friend Alex Rodriguez’s name came out from what was supposed to be an anonymous test in ’03, when there was not yet penalties for positive tests of PEDs.

Ortiz urged people to get away from the past and move forward, and suggested that anyone who tests positive in MLB’s testing program should be suspended for an entire season.

“I would suggest that everybody get tested, and not randomly,” Ortiz said on Feb. 16. “You go team by team and you test everybody, three, four times a year, and that’s about it. You do what you’ve got to do … ban them for the whole year [if they test positive]. You’re going to get respect from the players when they know they’re going to get tested. Let’s test the whole team, three or four times a year. I know they can do that. Believe me, if someone was using steroids, it would show up. Because the way they test you, it’s not a joke.”

How about past users, before the testing program was in effect?

“There’s been a lot of players who have been in federal court and being judged like they just killed somebody or they robbed somebody,” Ortiz also said on Feb. 16. “I don’t think all that is supposed to be happening. If you admitted that you’ve used stuff [in the past], boom, don’t use it anymore. It’s not good for you. You know it’s not good for the game. Let’s move on, you know what I mean? All the drama of bringing guys to court and acting like they are serious criminals, it doesn’t look good for the game. What is happening right now is about something that happened in the past. It’s not something that is happening right now. Everything was banned in, what, 2004?”

Anyway, more later.

Back at the Fens

As great as it was to be in Cooperstown over the weekend, it’s even better to be back at the Fens, in the catbird’s seat, keeping all of you updated on the action.

Third baseman Mike Lowell is again out of the lineup, with Adam LaRoche making his third straight start at first base. It’s a matchup thing, and also Tito trying to make the rotation system work.

More later.


What a show

If you ever forget how much you love baseball, come to Cooperstown — especially for an induction weekend.

We all love the actual baseball season. But this is a great change of pace from that hustle and bustle, albeit just for a couple of days.

I’ve been covering baseball on a full-time basis since 1997, but this weekend reminded me of what it was like to be a full-time fan in the 1980s, when I marveled at Rickey Henderson’s speed, his gaudy athleticism, his showmanship, and Jim Rice’s raw strength and power and that pure swing.

It was a joy being around these two guys the last couple of days and listening to them recall their careers.

I didn’t know that Jim Rice could have taken a full ride to play college football at Nebraska, but he talked quite a bit about that this weekend.

And Rickey — the utter fascination of Rickey.

I think the one bittersweet thing about the weekend for Rickey is that Billy Martin, his late manager with both Oakland and New York, wasn’t around to see this.

“My relationship with Billy Martin – he was like a father figure. I think Billy took me as sort of like his son,” Henderson said. “Billy figured I was the type of player who would run down a wall or break down some bricks because I loved the game. He saw the inner side of me. He was that type of player. he always felt I went out to win each and every day and I was a winner.”

I loved the story Rickey told during his speech about being a boy and trying to get Reggie Jackson’s autograph. Instead of giving Rickey an autograph, Reggie would give him a pen that said “Reggie Jackson” on it. Reggie, seated on the stage behind Rickey, nearly fell off the stage laughing at that recollection

“I didn’t get his autograph after the ceremony but he’s looking for my autograph. I’m just waiting for that moment,” joked Rickey. “Eventually I got Reggie Jackson’s autograph. I had to go out and prove myself to get his autograph. I think the time I stole 130 bases, the next year he was running to get my autograph and I told him, ‘I can’t give you my autograph this time because I never had your autograph.”‘

Rickey — who played for the Yankees and Mets — on the New York fans?

“New York fans, I always said they know the game of baseball and they know when you go out and play the game hard or when you go out and you’re not playing at all, or when you go out, as they always say, you’re faking or you’re jaking or you just don’t want to play. I think that’s the difference. Being in New York, in the spotlight, that excited me. I always wanted to take the challenge of the greatest organization and the greatest team in baseball. It was a challenge to me. I enjoyed every bit of it.”

And, as Rickey recalls — perhaps erroneously — he actually never did refer to himself as “Rickey”.

“I don’t think I ever called myself Rickey. I’m trying to think about where their lingo kept rising and rising. People said, I’m going to call myself Rickey. I think in baseball, and on a baseball field, we talk about a lot of different stuff. We talk about a lot of different stuff. We talk about different terms and stuff like that. It got out to the media and they just ran with it. You’d probably never hear me say Rickey. That’s not how I speak or talk about it. I speak fast, I talk fast, but I’m not going to see Rickey did this or that. In baseball, you see players talk about you talking to your bats, you’re mumbling, you’re talking about something. That was the way I would go out and concentrate and make me realize what I had to do,” said Rickey.

One thing you can be quite sure of — there will never be another Rickey.

I must say that at the end of the 2002 season, my first year on the Red Sox beat, I walked up to Rickey and shook his hand and said, “I just wanted to let you know it was an honor to cover you.”

I never said that to any player before or since. That’s just Rickey.

Anyway, back to Fenway tomorrow for some Red Sox-A’s. I hope all of you aren’t panicking about the ongoing slump of the offense. This, too, shall pass.

Five years ago today …

There are moments that are frozen in a season, and others that are frozen for an entire era.

Think back to five years ago today. The date was July 24, 2004. The Red Sox had just come off an excruciating loss to the Yankees the night before, despite three home runs from Kevin Millar. Despite all the  hype going into the season, they were entered the day 9 and a half games behind the Yankees in the American League East. And it was a rainy day. For a while, it looked like there would be no baseball game.

One or two Yankees had reportedly started showering, because apparently, the showers were going to wash away the game. But Jason Varitek,  Millar and some other members of the team told ownership, in a manner of speaking, “Get that field ready to play. We want to play baseball today.”

The Red Sox had some fight in them. Bronson Arroyo hit Alex Rodriguez with a breaking pitch in the third inning and the rest, you see in history. A-Rod barked at Arroyo, hollering and taunting expletives. Varitek wasn’t in the mood. He told A-Rod to get the “choice word here” to first base. Next thing you know, the superstar of the Yankees and the captain of the Red Sox were jaw to jaw. Arms flailing toward each other. Varitek literally lifted A-Rod off the ground with his glove, and then, a melee ensued.

Still though, the Yankes took a 9-4 lead on the Sox as the middle innings wore on. But the Red Sox kept chipping away. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, bam. Bill Mueller hit a walkoff homer off Mariano Rivera. The Red Sox had planted a seed in the minds of the Yankees, their bullies for all those years.

By the end of October, they had turned the tables on the Yankees from 3-0 down in the ALCS and went on to win their first World Series in 86 years.

Varitek’s mitt in A-Rod’s face was simply a sign that the Red Sox weren’t going to take it anymore. It is one of those moments that won’t be forgotten. And now it is five years later, and the Yankees — though they now lead the AL East — are still trying to even the score.

LaRoche on board

Adam LaRoche is now a member of the Red Sox, reuniting him with former teammates Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Nick Green and John Smoltz.

LaRoche will give the Red Sox pop off the bench and insurance and depth for Mike Lowell. It will also enable manager Terry Francona to keep Youkilis and Ortiz fresher.

I’m wondering if LaRoche could start as many as four days a week under a rotation system.

He has good thump in his bat, and the Sox need it right now.

Plus, he will likely be a Type B free agent this winter, meaning the Red Sox could get a draft pick if he leaves.

All in all, there is nothing not to like about this move by general manager Theo Epstein.

Back comes Buchholz

The talk show caller circuit will have to find a new topic of conversation to complain about, as Clay Buchholz is indeed coming back to the Boston rotation — just not in the way people expected.

Tim Wakefield is down with a lower back injury, so Buchholz is back, and he’ll pitch Wednesday night.

Fans have been salivating to see more of Buchholz, and rightfully so, given the way he has pitched this season. Now they will get a chance, as he will make at least two starts before Wakefield is eligible to return from the DL on Aug. 2.

It’s interesting talking to Buchholz and seeing him interact with teammates. He is a completely different person than he was last year. He is completely self assured and feels like he belongs, where last year he had that deer in the headlights look from start to finish.

One peeve of mine is the knee-jerk fans who think John Smoltz is done because he’s been inconsistent his first five starts. John is still feeling his way back after missing more than a year with surgery. This guy is a Hall of Famer for a reason. I am of strong belief that Smoltz will play a very significant role down the stretch.His first five innings were terrific last night, and one bad inning shouldn’t erase that memory. The jury is still out, but give the guy a chance at least.

Full Circle with the lineup

Why is tonight’s Red Sox starting lineup — Ellsbury-Pedroia-Youkilis-Ortiz-Bay-Drew-Lowell-Varitek-Lowrie — significant?

The obvious answer is that it marks the return of Jacoby to the leadoff spot, where he has been slotted just once sinceMay 31.

But the true answer is that this is just the third time all season — and first since the third game of the season on April 9 — that the Sox have had this combination of nine players in the lineup.

Obviously the Lowrie injury is the big reason why. But the order is also similar. It’s almost as if Tito has come full circle.

Only differences between today and Opening Day? Ortiz (third on Opening Day) and Youkilis are flip-flopped, as are Drew (fifth on Opening Day) and Bay.

The Red Sox obviously need to get a spark offensively, where they have struggled to have consistency of late.

Frankie singing Sweet Music

A different kind of Sunday morning in the Red Sox clubhouse today, as Frank Sinatra’s legendary voice replaced the usual mix of country, rap and hip hop. Good stuff, though some players — particularly Kevin Youkilis — seemed perplexed by the choice.

In actual baseball news, not a whole lot going on. Jacoby Ellsbury, who likely didn’t eat much beyond soup and jello this weekend in his rehab from intestinal turmoil, is back in the lineup, batting sixth.

What happened to him?

“I don’t know, but I felt terrible — absolutely terrible,” said Ellsbury. “But I feel better today.”

In lineup news, Kevin Youkilis moved over to third for the day, as Mark Kotsay — the brains behind the Sinatra selection — got the start at first. Mike Lowell and Jed Lowrie got the day off, but you could see one or both off the bench.

Roy Halladay liftime against the Red Sox: 12-12, 4.46 ERA. How is that possible? Don’t all of you feel like we’ve watched this guy throw a ton of gems against Boston?

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Lowrie re-enters

Jed Lowrie has cleared customs and will start at shortstop for the Red Sox for the first time since April 11. The switch-hitter is feeling good and eager to show that he is all the way back from left wrist surgery.

In other news, Mike Lowell is back in there for a second straight day, but will get a day off tomorrow, with Lowrie moving to third and Green playing short.

Jason Varitek has the day game after the night game off today. With Wakefield not pitching until the sixth and final day of the trip, Tito didn’t want Varitek to do too much too soon coming out of the All-Star break.

Jacoby Ellsbury is out again with “intestinal turmoil”.

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