What is easily the biggest series of Boston’s baseball season starts tonight at Fenway, as the Rays come in for the first of a four-game series. Obviously this series is huge because the Sox didn’t take care of business last weekend at Tropicana Field, losing three straight.
The Rays deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the way they’ve hung in this thing, beating the Red Sox head on nine out of 14 times entering tonight.
“Against us, their pitching – they have a plan and they follow through with it,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “They’ve really done a good job against our hitters for the most part. They have very good pitching. They’re a hard team to play because they’re so aggressive and if you give them an opening they make you pay for it. Saying that, I’m kind of looking forward to this series. It’ll be fun to play. Because they are – they feel good about themselves. So this will be fun to play.”
This game is going to be the hardest of the four for the Sox to win, with Kyle Weiland facing a talented pitcher in Jeremy Hellickson.
“The kid tonight pitches beyond his years as far as maturity and his changeup. And he has enough velocity,” Francona said of Hellickson.
Here are all the permutations possible by the end of the weekend.
Sox win all four. They lead the Rays by eight with 10 to go.
Sox win three out of four. They lead the Rays by six with 10 to go.
Sox and Rays split the series. Sox still lead the Rays by four with 10 to go.
Rays win three out of four. They leave town two games behind the Sox with 10 to go.
Rays sweep. The teams are tied with 10 to play.
The Red Sox had some good news on the injury front today, as Clay Buchholz pitched off a mound for the first time since being shut down two months ago. Buchholz threw 15 pitches in front of the mound and 15 off of it. The righty’s big test will come Saturday, when he is scheduled to have a full-blown side session.
The other good news is that the lineup has both David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez, who have recovered enough from their nagging injuries to play in this one.
It is a day none of us will ever forget. Here is what the Red Sox remember.
The Red Sox were in New York getting ready to face Roger Clemens the night of 9/10, but that game was rained out, enabling the team to fly to Tampa a little earlier than planned for their series that was scheduled to begin in St. Petersburg — ironically where the Sox are right now — on 9/11/01.
Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield:
“[My girlfriend and now wife Stacy] was actually in New York with me. She got out because we got rained out. She got the last flight out and beat me [to Tampa] so when we got in at 4 in the morning, she was already sleeping. She was up when all this was taking place and woke me up and said, ‘hey, you need to wake up.’ I started watching it and like 10 minutes later, we saw the second plane hit and we were like, ‘oh god, something bad is happening right now.”’
“To watch stuff on television now, the documentaries about how everything unfolded and how whoever was in charge of grounding all the airplanes made the hardest, right decision anyone could have made. Knowing it would costs the airlines millions and millions of dollars if they stopped all flights immediately, they’d have to ground the planes and all the passengers would have to switch flights. That’s when they found out about United 93. The game was meaningless [compared to what was going on] but we needed to get back playing.”
Wakefield on Ground Zero: “In 2002, I drove by. I took a cab and jus drove by. I didn’t want to get out. in ’05, we went and opened the stock market, me, trot and somebody else, we rang the bell at the American Stock Exchange. We went to somebody’s office that overlooked Ground Zero. He was part of that whole thing. He kept telling us how the building was shaking and all that stuff. The chaos.”
Jason Varitek was out for the remainder of 2001 with a fractured right elbow.
“Actually I didn’t arrive in Tampa. I was on the DL, I was in rehab. I actually arrived that morning to rehab when it all happened. It’s like, once you realize what happened, everybody dropped what they were doing and took off and left.”
“There’s a heightened awareness to everything that goes on around you for one. Appreciation for the people that tried to save lives and to do those things and you reach out to those people who have lost family, friends, etc., in the most tragic thing that’s ever happened here.”
Jacoby Ellsbury, now an All-Star and an MVP candidate, turned 18 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. He was a junior at Madras (Oregon) High School.
“I just remember going to school and waking up that morning and hearing something happened. At school, we turned on all the TV’s and saw everything unfold. At the beginning, I don’t think anyone really knew what was going on. But yeah, I just remember watching things unfold from Madras (ore.) High. I was on my way to school when I kind of heard everything. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years.”
The 2001 season was basically the only year of Terry Francona’s youth or adult life that he wasn’t wearing a baseball uniform. Francona was a scout for the Indians in 2001, and was on assignment in Pittsburgh when the terrorist attacks happened. His best friend Brad Mills was also scouting for the Cubs at that time, and was in Pittsburgh, at the same hotel as Francona when everything happened.
“I was in Pittsburgh scouting and coincidentally Millsy was scouting for the Cubs. He was advancing. He was upstairs in the concierge room because he never pays for coffee. So he called me and he was like, ‘hey, you need to come up here, man. I went upstairs and I sat there with him. Kind of watched it and then rented a car and drove back to Philly because obviously there weren’t going to be games. I remember driving by Shanksville (Pennsylvania) on the turnpike. The exit was closed. I remember being glad I was with Millsy. Times like that, it’s nice to have maybe your best friend in the whole world with you.”
Francona is glad that soldiers can take some enjoyment out of being around baseball: “I hope it does. If you like baseball, I don’t know that it matters what you do. obviously I hope what we do, people get enjoyment out of it. I think it’s cool that they bring soldiers and people like that around and they honor them at the ballparks. I think everybody enjoys that. I think it’s a really neat thing. If they get some enjoyment out of what we’re doing, that’s terrific.”
Of course, perhaps nobody affiliated with the Red Sox had a more compelling 9/11 story than Trot Nixon, whose wife Kathryn gave birth to the couple’s first son on 9/11/01. Today, Chase Nixon turned 10 years old. Here is an in-depth story I did with Trot and Kathryn back in 2002.
Not only was John Lackey getting hit hard tonight, but then he joined the seemingly unending barrage of injuries that have inflicted the Sox of late.
Lackey left tonight’s game at Tropicana Field after being belted on the left calf by an inning-ending groundout by John Jaso. Lackey actually made a nice play to get Jaso out, but had to be taped in the dugout after that and could not continue.
So Lackey joins Josh Beckett, Erik Bedard and Clay Buchholz as Sox starting pitchers who can be classified as the walking wounded. And that’s without mentioning Kevin Youkilis, who is back in Boston having his ailing left hip looked at.
Just a few days ago, the Red Sox were hoping to win the division. Now a large chunk of Terry Francona’s focus has to be just getting his team to the postseason in one piece.
Kevin Youkilis hadn’t really looked right the past few days from a mobility standpoint and we found out why today. While the Red Sox flew from Toronto to Florida, Youkilis flew back to Boston to have his left hip checked out. The exam included an MRI.
Youkilis had been on the DL from Aug. 18-Sept. 2 with a lower back strain. Is this latest development alarming? That all depends on what the test results show.
“We were going to give Youk the day off today most likely,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He was really limping last couple of days, especially last night, so his hip started bothering him a little bit, so we got him back to Boston to get looked at, he’s probably getting looked at right now. just rying to figure out what, when, where why so he doesn’t have to limp through the last couple of weeks because we need him. Hopefully we’ll have news here pretty soon.
It’s been – trying to figure out if it’s connected. Hopefully we’ll get some answers.”
Youkilis isn’t alone on the banged-up list. Erik Bedard, who had his start skipped this week anyway because of knee stiffness, went back to Boston to get some discomfort in his left lat checked out.
“Erik went back to Boston,” Francona said. “After the other day, he talked about his knee bothering him and it was, he was throwing all arm as he got through that start, his lat started flaring up on him so we got him back to Boston, he’s got a mild lat strain. I think he’s flying back tonight to join us. We’ll slot him in when we think it’s appropriate, I don’t know when that is.’’
As for Josh Beckett, there is still no word on when he will return from his sprained ankle.
“Well, he gets looked at every day, and he’s doing much better today,” Francona said. “He can do his throwing, so he’s not going to get set back and then we all kind of know how important his five-day schedule is so when we get to that point we’ll kind of slot him in.”