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President Obama: ‘Any of these teams need a lefty?’

07.14.09 at 10:29 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — President Barack Obama fielded some questions after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the 80th All-Star Game. He stepped into the Fox broadcast booth and offered some spirited rhetoric about baseball. He could not avoid partisan rhetoric, as Obama made no secret of his rooting interest in the Chicago White Sox. Here is a transcript of the appearance:

On being at the Game:

First of all, it’s as close to home as I’ve been in a while, and this is the national pastime. To go down there and meet Stan Musial and Bob Gibson and those guys, it’s such a reminder about what’s great in this country. You can’t beat that and it’s a real treat.

You have reached the highest office in the land. Your heart must have been pounding underneath that Sox jacket to throw out the ceremonial first pitch:

This is the second time. I threw it out during the American League Championship Series (in 2005). The (White) Sox ended up winning the World Series. And when you’re a senator, they show you no respect, so they just hand you the ball. You don’t get a chance to warm up. Now here, I was with Albert Pujols in teh batting cage practicing before.

Did you forget the baseline moves? Did you put the basketball down?

We did all practicing in the Rose Garden. But what is true, I’m a great baseball fan. I did not play organized baseball when I was a kid, so I think some of these natural moves are not so natural to me.

The White Sox winning the World Series back in 2005, being a fan for so long, that had to be a thrill for you.

It was just wonderful. I was just talking to Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox owner, about this, after I threw out my pitch, they won eight straight after losing the first game (of the ALCS). Any of these teams need a lefty?

Who wins it all in 2009?

It’s a little early for that. You know, I tend to try to get a little more information. I tell you what, though, what’s been interesting about baseball this year, other than the Dodgers, who have been (playing) great baseball, there’s a lot of parity, which I think is terrific, because it means everybody around the country has a little bit of hope for the team. One may be the exception, the Nationals, who are still young and have a new ballpark.

You honored the Phillies in the White House:

Wonderful people, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, the whole crew there was just a class act and I like the way they play. They are a scrappy team, and (had a) real team bond, so very impressive. My campaign manager, he was from Delaware, so he was a crazy Phillies fan, and them winning kept him in a good mood.

Right on cue, as Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino gets a base hit to right.

Since I grew up in Hawaai, this kid, while we were down in the clubhouse, he actually gave me some macadamia nuts from back home.

He is the first position player to come out of Hawaii. There have been three pitchers, but he’s the first position player. The National League has Molina at the plate; as you know the N.L. hasn’t won the All-Star Game since 1996.

This is a problem.

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Wakefield: All-Star Experience ‘Overwhelming’

07.14.09 at 6:20 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — Tim Wakefield might not get to pitch in the 80th All-Star Game. After waiting for 17 seasons to reach the showcase event, it is entirely possible that the 42-year-old will not have the opportunity to pitch in it. 

A.L. manager Joe Maddon, who selected Wakefield for the All-Star roster, told the knuckleballer that he is being held back should the game reach extra innings, since the right-hander is rested and can provide multiple insurance innings. As has been the case throughout his career, Wakefield has no problems with the manner in which the manager would like to proceed. 

“I am the extra-inning guy. (Maddon) had to project at least 16 innings out. Based on my availability today ‘€“ because I was scheduled to pitch yesterday (on a normal rotation turn, since he last started on Thursday) ‘€“ I think I’€™m the only guy who has the multiple inning insurance policy for us,” said Wakefield. “I’€™m just happy to be here. If I pitch, great. If not, it’€™s not a big deal. It doesn’€™t matter. I’€™m not going to be upset either way.”

Wakefield’s perspective is in part drawn from the fact that his experience at the All-Star Game has been nothing short of spectacular. Players from both sides have come up to the knuckleballer to offer their enthusiasm for his first selection to the contest.

“It’€™s been overwhelming. Very much so. I’€™m trying to soak it all in. It will probably hit me after we leave, when I fly home tomorrow. It’€™s been so chaotic the last two days. I’€™m just trying to slow things down and enjoy it as much as I can,” Wakefield beamed. “Tomorrow, after the game is over tonight, hopefully I get in the game and can reflect on it a little better.”

Players have sought out Wakefield in order to exchange pleasantries or pose for pictures. Yesterday, Wakefield said cheese with a group that included flamethrower Felix Hernandez, Rays star third baseman Evan Longoria and Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez. He also talked at some length with longtime Yankee rivals Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, both of whom debuted for New York in the same year (1995) that Wakefield first appeared with the Red Sox.

“I know the two guys from playing against them all these years,” said Wakefield. “We’€™ve built an across-the-lines friendship where we say hi to each other. But it’€™s pretty cool to be in the same clubhouse as the Yankee greats, those two.”

The mere fact of Wakefield’s selection to the game has given some prominence not only to his career — the 189 career wins, 175 of which have come with the Red Sox; the longevity, durability and reliability that have been hallmarks of his tenure — but also to his pitch.

The knuckleball ranks have been sparse in recent years. There have been times when Wakefield has been the pitch’s only practitioner in the majors; right now, Twins reliever R.A. Dickey also employs the pitch. Wakefield and Dickey stay in frequent contact, as the Sox starter is more than happy to offer pointers whenever his Minnesota counterpart can use them. 

The All-Star selection for Wakefield, of course, could serve to raise the profile of his pitch, a development that the pitcher would clearly celebrate.

“I’€™d like to see that happen. I don’€™t know if it will,” said Wakefield. “I like to see the fact that the knuckleball is on the map again. Hopefully it will spark some interest in some organizations and other pitchers.”

At the least, it has sparked a great deal of interest in St. Louis in Wakefield. For that fact alone, the pitcher has not been able to stop smiling since landing in St. Louis.

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Halladay: Winning, not negotiating, the priorty

07.14.09 at 5:29 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — Speaking before his All-Star Game start — which is scheduled to last two innings — Roy Halladay touched on the importance of being able to negotiate a new deal with any team that agrees to a deal involving the ace.

“I really haven’t got that point. I think I’ve been fortunate that early in my career I was able to take care of my family and get in the situation to start putting the emphasis on what I would like and I think at this point it’s trying to win,” Halladay said. “For me I don’t see it forsee it being hugely important, and if something is worked out afterward… I think you’re just looking for a chance to win.”

Halladay, whose contract is up after next season, said that he has had conversations with Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi regarding what is important to him when visiting any potential deal. The pitcher did say, however, that the subject of having the opportunity to negotiate a deal hasn’t been a major talking point.

“I think at this point, one, it’s so early, and two, he’s aware that what I’m looking for is a chance to play in the playoffs. Whether something changes in Toronto and they change their mind and they work things out, then that’s great,” Halladay said. “But I think he’s always been aware of that and always done his best to be accommodating.”

Victor Martinez on catching knuckleballs and rumors

07.13.09 at 4:09 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — Indians catcher Victor Martinez can summarize his experience with the knuckleball quite simply.

“Never (caught a knuckleball) in my life,” he said. “Never.”

That said, he would not shy from being the man behind the plate should 42-year-old Tim Wakefield get his first opportunity to pitch in an All-Star game.

“It will be fun. This game is all about fun. I’ve never caught a knuckleball before, so it will be interesting,” said Martinez. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Martinez is back in the All-Star game on the strength of a bounce-back season in 2009. He averaged 21 homers from 2004-07, hitting .302 with a .376 OBP and .860 OPS to establish himself as one of the top offensive catchers in the majors. In 2008, however, his performance plummeted. He went deep just two times, hitting .278 with a .337 OBP and .701 OPS while dealing with “loose bodies” in his right elbow that ultimately required arthroscopic surgery in the middle of last year.

This spring, Martinez arrived to spring training with the Indians healthy. His power has returned, as he is hitting .294 with 14 homers, a .374 OBP and .859 OPS.

“When I got to spring training, I knew I was healthy. That was a big difference between this year and last year,” said Martinez. “It makes me feel pretty good. All the trouble that I went through last year, it’s a big difference when you’re playing healthy…It was the first time for me in my career, having a lot of pain and stuff in my body. I went and got my elbow surgery, and then finally this year, I came back healthy. It’s a big difference when you play healthy.”

While that has earned Martinez his third All-Star spot, it has not been enough to sustain the Indians in the standings. With the Indians in possession of a 35-54 record and in last place in the A.L. Central, Cleveland has become a hotbed of rumors.

Already, the Indians dealt Mark DeRosa, and Martinez’ name has surfaced as a potential trade target of other clubs, including the Red Sox. According to league sources, Cleveland would likely seek such an extraordinary prospect haul in exchange for Martinez that the Sox – and most clubs, for that matter – would be disinclined to try to acquire the switch-hitting catcher/first baseman, who is in currently playing in the fifth season of a five-year, $15.5 million contract that has a team option for 2010 at a very reasonable pricetag of $7 million.

Martinez suggests that he is able to ignore the rumor mill and to focus on what he does on the field.

“You’ve got enough to worry about playing baseball…I think I do a pretty good job on that, keeping away from that distraction. I don’t really pay attention to that. We’ll see. Whatever happens, happens. The only thing I need to make sure of is show up to the field and play hard every day,” said Martinez. “I would like to stay and hopefully retire as an Indian.”

Martinez insists that he will do whatever it takes to win, whether with the Indians or, presumably, elsewhere. He will catch, play first, D.H., so long as it leaves his team positioned to succeed.

“I’m all about winning. I just want to win. As soon as I cross those lines, I want to win. Whatever my team needs to win, I’ll be there,” said Martinez.

Read More: Red Sox, Tim Wakefield, victor martinez,

Hanley Ramirez Reflects on the Red Sox Experience

07.13.09 at 1:59 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS ‘€“ Looking back to his days as a pup on the diamond for the Red Sox ‘€“ back in the Gulf Coast League, in Sarasota, in Portland ‘€“ Hanley Ramirez is not surprised by anything that has happened to him in his major-league career, save for one thing.

‘€œGetting traded. I never thought I was going to get traded when I was coming up with the Red Sox,’€ said Ramirez, now representing the Florida Marlins at an All-Star Game for the second straight year. ‘€œThat happened, but I’€™m happy to be here with Florida.

That is not to say that Ramirez doesn’€™t enjoy Boston, or wouldn’€™t have liked to be a member of the Red Sox. He remains ‘€œreally close’€ with David Ortiz, and described great encounters with the Fenway fans during his visit with the Marlins to Boston for an interleague series last month.

He also caught wind of the offseason rumors that suggested the Red Sox were interested in reacquiring his services. Because talks between the Sox and Marlins never advanced much beyond the exploratory phase, Ramirez never had to think too hard about returning to the franchise with whom he signed out of the Dominican in 2000, though he did consider it flattering to hear that Boston made a run at him.

‘€œThey see the way you play and they want you back, but I can’€™t control that. I’€™ve got to just keep playing hard and showing everyone I deserve to be in the big leagues,’€ said Ramirez. ‘€œThat’€™s nothing I can control, so I go like, ‘€˜Yeah, good.’€™ It’€™s good when teams are after you and you know you’€™ve got to get better and better and better everyday. I was kind of like, ‘€˜Hmmm’€¦’€™’€ he said, moving his neck from side to side as if in deep contemplation.

‘€œBut it never happened. I love Florida. I’€™m happy to be here. I wish I can end my career here. They’€™ve got a great front office, coaching staff, and my teammates are the best teammates I’€™ve had in my life.’€

While Ramirez was stunned by the trade that sent him to the Marlins in 2005, he joins the consensus of opinion that the deal benefited both sides. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell helped propel the Sox to a title in 2007 — making Boston the only team this decade with two championships — while Ramirez is the centerpiece of the Marlins’ future.

‘€œIt really did (help both teams). Boston has two World Series, and I think we’€™ll have a couple. We’€™ve just got to keep working,’€ said Ramirez, who has an N.L.-leading .349 batting average to go with 14 homers, 13 steals and a .979 OPS. ‘€œI’€™ve got to keep working and keep getting better.’€

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Who will catch Wake?

07.13.09 at 12:26 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — American League manager Joe Maddon is usually accommodating when it comes to answering every kind of question. But in the case of who will catch Tim Wakefield in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, he couldn’t come up with definitive response.

“Is there any?” Maddon said when asked which of the AL catchers might be assigned the task of catching Wakefield.

“Whoever is going to catch him is going to be uncomfortable. But you can’t choose to not pick somebody because you’re concerned who is going to catch them. I thought about that in the selection process. I have caught a knuckleball and it’s not fun.”

Maddon said he has heard Minnesota backstop Joe Mauer has some experience catching a knuckleball, but after that the manager is flying blind.

“If you want to really think about it, for the catchers who have not caught a knuckleball pitcher it really is not fun,” Maddon said, “especially in these circumstances.”

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Halladay: ‘There’s a Point in Your Career Where You Have to Take a Chance’

07.13.09 at 12:06 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — Roy Halladay, described as “maybe the best pitcher in the American League” over the past several years by Tampa Bay and A.L. All-Star Manager Joe Maddon, addressed the swirl of trade rumors around him. He was introduced by emcee Bob Costas as “representing, at least for now, the Toronto Blue Jays,” which elicited a laugh from the Toronto ace who admitted, “I’m not looking forward to this (press conference).”

“It’s tough. Obviously, I’m somewhere that I enjoy being and have spent my entire career. There’s a lot, I think, that goes into it. I think as a player, there’s a will to win. There’s that will to do it in October. Basically, that’s all this is about. I’d like that chance. I’m not saying it won’t be Toronto. It’s what’s best for the organization,” said Halladay. “But it has been tough. I do enjoy Toronto very much.”

Halladay made a number of subsequent points, among them:

–The trade banter has been “awkward” for Halladay to deal with. He’s trying to stay out of the process and let the Jays front office explore scenarios.

–All things being equal, he would rather remain in Toronto. He considers the relatively quiet Toronto market ideal for his personality. That said, he is open to a bigger market if it means a chance to win.

“Toronto has been phenomenal to me. I consider it home…That’s what’s made Toronto great for me. It is quiet. It is a great place,” he said. “(But) there’s a point in your career where you’ve got to ake a chance, try (change), and win…I’ve always been able to separate the field from off-field.”

–He described it as a “flip of the coin” whether he would be in Toronto come August 1. He recognizes that the Jays will only move him if it entails a significant organizational improvement, meaning the sort of prospect package that other teams would be reluctant to part with.

–He does not have a list of teams that he’s established for where he’d accept a trade.

“I haven’t really put together teams,” said Halladay. “I haven’t had to put together places I would want to go.”

–He has not made any decisions about whether or not he would require a contract extension to approve a no-trade clause.

“All I can tell you is my priority would be winning,” said Halladay. “I’ve been fortunate to be taken care of financially down the road.”

–He would not mind going to the National League, based on the challenge of pitching in the A.L. East.

“I’d rather hit than have to face Jeter and A-Rod and Matsui,” he said.

Buchholz’s Big Day: Bad Starts, Trade Rumors, and Major League Promotions

07.12.09 at 10:06 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET — Coming into Sunday’€™s start, Clay Buchholz was leading the Triple-A International League in pitching with a 7-1 record and a 2.11 ERA with 86 strikeouts.

But the 24-year-old righty didn’€™t quite replicate those numbers as he went only 5.1 innings against the Syracuse Chiefs, giving up four earned runs off eight hits. Though the All-Star pitcher exited the game to thunderous applause from the McCoy Stadium crowd in the sixth inning, his head was down and he clearly seemed disappointed with his outing.

‘€œToday was just the kind of day where, it was nice that I got into the sixth inning and you like to see that, but not in the kind of fashion where you have to minimize damage,’€ Buchholz said. ‘€œBut you’€™ve always got days like that.’€

Sunday was also the day that Buchholz was not just being monitored by Pawtucket’€™s parent team, the Boston Red Sox, but also by scouts from the Toronto Blue Jays ‘€“ a team who has recently shown interest in the young pitcher as they look to possibly move ace Roy Halladay before the trade deadline.

Two Toronto scouts were in attendance at Sunday’€™s game.

But Buchholz has been through this sort of thing before, namely in 2006 when the Sox were in negotiations with Florida over the trade that sent Hanley Ramirez to the Marlins in exchange for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, among others.

‘€œIt’€™s been that way for the last three years now, I’€™ve been involved in a lot of trade talks,’€ Buchholz said. ‘€œIt’€™s good to have your name thrown out there, it just means you’€™ll be able to help other clubs.’€

Now he’€™s the focal point of a trade that could potentially add the Cy Young Award-winning Halladay to an already lethal Boston pitching staff, and likely thrust the Sox to the title of ‘€˜World Series favorite.’€™

Still, Buchholz has never had a problem concentrating on simply playing the game, and his appreciation for the Red Sox organization hasn’€™t been affected by the recent speculation.

‘€œIt never really was an issue for me,’€ he said. ‘€œThe Sox have been very loyal to me, so I can’€™t do anything except be loyal back. It’€™s been a good couple years in my career so far, and everything happens for a reason, so if something like that was to happen then you just have to take it for what it’€™s worth and you go on with your career. But I plan to be with the Red Sox for a long time.’€

Almost immediately following Pawtucket’€™s loss to Syracuse (a loss that was charged to Buchholz), Red Sox Manager Terry Francona announced that Buchholz would pitch in the first game of the team’€™s upcoming series against Toronto ‘€“ the very organization that could soon boast Buchholz as their up-and-coming ace if a deal with Boston is completed. But for now, the righty just has his sights set on Friday at the Rogers Centre.

‘€œIt’€™s going to be good, I’€™ve actually pitched in Toronto a couple times already. I know the atmosphere and I think it’€™ll be a fun day for me. I’€™m going to go out there and pitch like I’€™ve been pitching here and not really care about the results as much as everyone out there in the process of it’€¦ We’€™ll see what happens from there.’€

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Bates finally starts to show what he’s all about

07.12.09 at 9:19 pm ET
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Freshly called-up rookie Aaron Bates didn’t look much like big league material during his first handful of at-bats in the majors.

The big right-handed hitter was 0-for-6 to start things off with four flailing, floundering strikeouts, and that didn’t bode well for a 25-year-old slugger that was hitting .182 for Triple-A Pawtucket at the time of his promotion to Boston. But Bates played steady, soft-handed defense at first base during those first few games, and finally broke through with his first big league hit — an RBI single — in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night.

Bates collected that first career Major League hit and RBI single with a solid knock up the middle in the eighth inning Saturday, and it all seemed to be another nice Fenway rookie story when he spoke after the game of sending his memento baseball to his mom.

Instead of getting satisfied with himself, however, Bates got greedy and added to his first time with a pair of doubles and an RBI in Sunday’€™s 6-0 victory over the Royals. Bates looked overmatched while fanning four times in those first six big league at-bats, but he was hitting solid line drives to all parts of the baseball field on Sunday. It helped that Bates had faced well-traveled Royals starter Bruce Chen three or four times this winter in Puerto Rico, and finally didn’t have to squirm and struggle for a little pitch recognition.

Bates was leaving the Sox clubhouse on Sunday afternoon headed for Kennebunkport with his girlfriend to celebrate the All-Star break, and Sunday’s performance left a very good taste in the first-year player’s mouth. He finally felt like he’d shown a bit of what he could eventually bring to the table in the big leagues: a powerful right-handed, middle-of-the-order hitter with a nifty glove and a punishing swing.

“You don’t every try to do too much. I try not to get too result-oriented because I get into a little bit of trouble when I do that,” said Bates. “I’ve been fortunate to be around some of the best players in the game. There’s six All-Stars here, and I’m just learning as much as I can and really trying to be a sponge. I try to pick guy’s brains. Sometimes I even think I’m asking guys too many questions, but I want to learn as much as I can while I’m here.”

How ironic that the rook struggling simply to make contact in his first few games becomes the first Red Sox player to record a three-hit effort in his first five big-league games since Nomar Garciaparra turned the trick way back on Sept. 1, 1996.

‘€œHe got a hit (Saturday night) and so often when guys, they get a hit, they loosen up and they feel good about themselves,’€ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He swung the bat great. When we called him up he was having a tough time in Triple-A for the past 10 days or two weeks. He took some really good swings today.

“The thinking was (in bringing him up) that he’s certainly a strong kid. He’s got some pull power. You tell he felt good about himself today. Hits the ball to center, hits two balls to the right, pulls a ball down the left of the line. When you see (somebody) use the whole field and you hit the ball square like that, you are feeling pretty good. It lines up really well. It should benefit him and us.”

The dividends for the Sox actually began on Sunday when Bates finally settled into his big league groove.

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Buchholz Reacts to Promotion to Big Leagues

07.12.09 at 6:29 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET – Following a 5-4 loss in his final start for Pawtucket before the All-Star break, Clay Buchholz was named Friday’s starting pitcher when the Sox head north to Toronto. (A pair of Toronto’s pro scouts were in attendance to scout Buchholz during Sunday’s outing, in which he gave up five runs (four earned) in 5.1 innings.) After the game, the 24-year-old righty had this to say about his promotion:

‘€œThe first time I ever got called up was the day before and I couldn’€™t go to sleep at night and had everybody calling me. At least now I’€™ve been there before…

‘€œIt’€™s going to be good, I’€™ve actually pitched in Toronto a couple times already. I know the atmosphere and I think it’€™ll be a fun day for me. I’€™m going to go out there and pitch like I’€™ve been pitching here and not really care about the results as much as everyone out there in the process of it. Like I said, it’€™s going to be a fun day…

‘€œIt’€™s going to be a nice little ride for me and we’€™ll see what happens from there.”

For the next few days leading into the second half, Buchholz plans to relax with his fiancee on Cape Cod.

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