|04.05.10 at 3:02 am ET|
There are few people who can understand what Jonathan Papelbon went through over the nearly six months since his last appearance in Fenway Park, the ALDS meltdown when he allowed three runs in an inning to not only blow a lead but to bring the Red Sox‘ season to a shocking halt.
Few can understand what it means to have become accustomed to performing to Papelbon’s historically outstanding standard as a closer, and few can understand what it is like to have the expectation of a certain save crumble, followed by just under half a year to reflect on failure. And it just so happened that one of the only men to understand that stew of experiences was on hand to watch Papelbon pitch in his first meaningful game since the Sox closer’s playoff failure last season.
Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley had run that same gauntlet following the 1988 season. That had been Eckersley’s first full year as a closer, with spectacular results. The right-hander produced a 2.35 ERA en route to 45 saves, tied at that time for the second most in a single season in baseball history. Yet his excellence that year came to a screeching halt in Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers. Eckersley inherited a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning, recorded a pair of quick outs and then issued a walk preceding the walkoff homer by Kirk Gibson that gave the Dodgers a 5-4 win.
“That wasn’t easy, but for me, it was a little different. I was two years sober. I felt like I was lucky to be in that position. I’d been in the big leagues 14 years and finally got to the World Series,” said Eckersley. “I felt fortunate because of all that I’d been through, but it still wasn’t easy. Everywhere I went, from that time on, ‘Gibson!’ Mine was [messed] up.”
Yet even as he faced the reminders of his shocking defeat at nearly every turn, Eckersley responded to his spotlight stumble in exceptional fashion. In 1989, Eckersley had a 1.56 ERA in the regular season, and then proved dominant in the playoffs, saving a total of four of Oakland’s eight wins en route to a World Series triumph.
Eckersley pointed out that his circumstances were different from Papelbon’s. Unlike the Sox closer, Eckersley was a veteran who had never pitched — let alone triumphed or failed — as a postseason closer. Papelbon, on the other hand, had a resume of prior postseason perfection upon which he could fall back when thinking about his implosion against the Angels.
Even so, Eckersley’s experience was similar enough that he could understand the significance of Papelbon’s save of Sunday night’s 9-7 Red Sox win over the Yankees in circumstances — ninth inning, Fenway Park, two-run lead — that resembled the ones in which he failed last year.
“If he used that to motivate him, that’s a hell of a motivator,” said Eckersley. “Especially in the postseason, he hasn’t had anything [go wrong]. He shouldn’t be so hard on himself, but if he says he’s using it as a motivator, so be it.”
Papelbon made clear that he was doing just that. On Sunday night, he wasted was aggressive in going after the Yankees. He got Alex Rodriguez (a longtime nemesis) to ground out and elicited a harmless Robinson Cano fly out. Then, after Jorge Posada laced a single back up the middle, the Sox closer jumped ahead of Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson, retiring him on a groundout to third.
Papelbon delivered an emotional fist pump to punctuate the victory and celebrate his first save of the young season.
‘I think there couldn’t have been any better situation for me than to go out there tonight and prove that, yeah, I took a hit on the chin last year, but it happens in this game, and I’m back for vengeance,” said Papelbon.
It was significant, said Eckersley, that such a statement is now more than just a boast. With his first successful appearance of 2010, Papelbon can now gain some distance from the disappointing end of the 2009 season. As such, this was an instance in which an early season save carried somewhat greater significance than might have otherwise been the case.
“I think that was a big deal for him,” said Eckersley. “They love him here. He’s been damn near perfect, and he will continue to be. How can he not be? He’s too good.”
|04.05.10 at 1:50 am ET|
Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis spoke to the media following the Red Sox’ comeback win over the Yankees. Youkilis talked about the team’s resiliency, his RBI triple in the sixth inning, and the success of his new teammates.
|04.05.10 at 1:24 am ET|
|04.05.10 at 1:02 am ET|
|04.04.10 at 11:57 pm ET|
For at least one game (which was convenient considering that’s all Major League Baseball has played), the Red Sox showed that their offense actually might not be as big a concern as previously thought. The Sox stormed back from deficits of 5-1 and 7-5 to claim a 9-7 victory over the Yankees on Opening Night at Fenway Park.
Here are some of the particulars:
BIGGEST PLAY OF THE GAME
— While some might point to Kevin Youkilis darting home on a passed ball off the glove of Jorge Posada with two outs in the seventh, ultimately serving as the game-winning run, its importance wouldn’t have been made possible if not for Dustin Pedroia’s two-run homer over the left field wall off of Chan Ho Park.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
— The new lineup: Not only did the newcomers (Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro) go a combined 5-for-9, but they contributed to an approach against CC Sabathia that drove the Yankees starter from the game after 5-1/3 innings, having thrown 104 pitches). Scutaro, for instance, saw 19 pitches in his four at-bats, going 2-for-3 with a walk.
— The cleanup hitter: Youkilis was an extra-base machine, notching two doubles and a triple. The three-bagger was one the biggest of the game for the Sox at the time it rattled around down in the right-field corner, scoring two to get the home team within a run before Beltre completed the sixth-inning comeback with a game-tying single. But it was Youkilis’ double in the seventh that led to the game-winner, with the first baseman scoring on Jorge Posada‘s passed ball. He became the first Red Sox player with three or more extra-base on Opening Day since Carlton Fisk did it in 1973.
— Scott Shoeneweis: It might not have seemed like much at the time, but the lefty’s one inning of scoreless relief after Josh Beckett exited allowed the Sox to mount their first comeback.
— The pregame/in-game festivities: From Keri Hilson’s National Anthem (no, she didn’t forget the words this time), to Pedro Martinez‘ first pitch (complete with all cheers until he shook Alex Rodriguez‘ hand on the way in), to 5-year-old Joshua Sacco’s delivery of the pregame speech made in the movie “Miracle,” the package was the best Fenway has delivered since Dr. Charles Steinberg left town. And then, of course, there was Neil Diamond doing his “Sweet Caroline” thing live, complete with a bizarre sports jacket sporting the words “Keep the Dodgers In Brooklyn” on the back. For those who liked that sort of thing, it was solid.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
— Josh Beckett’s outing: Beckett couldn’t locate, and it cost him. The first examples of his lack of command came in the second inning when he surrendered back-to-back homers to Posada and Curtis Granderson. The Granderson shot, which cleared the Red Sox bullpen in right, was a direct result of Beckett misplacing a 3-2 fastball. After an eight-pitch first inning, Beckett left with two outs in the fifth inning, having allowed five runs on eight hits and three walks, throwing 94 pitches.
— Much of the middle relief: Concerns continued regarding the reliability of the Sox’ middle relief corps. This time the cause for cautiousness came from Ramon Ramirez, who allowed two runs in the seventh immediately after the Red Sox had come back to tie the game in the sixth. It was actually Hideki Okajima who allowed the game-tying runs to come across via a groundout and single. In case you forgot, Ramirez didn’t allow a single run through his first 13 appearances in 2009, a streak that stretched until May 4. Daniel Bard did come on to pitch a scoreless eighth, only walking a batter.
|04.04.10 at 8:03 pm ET|
The baseball calendar begins in earnest tonight, and a packed Fenway Park (yes, it is sold out) is jazzed for Opening Day. The obscenely nice weather doesn’t hurt things. Nor did the arrival of Pedro Martinez, with No. 45 having made his entry from behind the American flag draped down the Green Monster to throw out the first pitch to Jason Varitek. Martinez was greeted with wild applause, interrupted only briefly when he hugged Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
There’s not a lot of news to report, but there were a few items of note:
—Boof Bonser will start the opener for Triple-A Pawtucket on April 8. Bonser’s readiness to pitch this year could prove significant, particularly in light of the season-ending Tommy John surgery for Junichi Tazawa. Bonser and Michael Bowden represent starting options No. 7 and 8 for the Sox this year; it would be exceedingly surprising if the Sox didn’t need at least that many starters at some point this year.
–Tazawa’s surgery is scheduled for Tuesday.
—Keri Hilson had a nice bounceback performance with the national anthem, leaving behind her atrocious performance at a recent basketball game and putting herself officially back on the pregame circuit.
|04.04.10 at 1:47 pm ET|
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein visited the Baseball Show on Saturday and discussed the shape of his organization. He underscored his hope that this year’s team will be a balanced one, and while the focal points of the team’s defensive upgrades are newcomers Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, he also praised Jacoby Ellsbury for the impact he can make as “one of the best one or two left fielders in the game defensively.”
Epstein also took stock of the team’s wave of prospects that will impact the club in the next one to two years, noting that the team’s offseason strategy of pursuing free agents was predicated in large part on the team’s desire to keep a young nucleus intact for the future. Highlights of the interview are transcribed below. To listen to the interview, click here.
Were you able to get a read on how the new acquisitions will impact the defense in spring training?
So far, so good. I don’t think there’s going to be many question marks with any of the new players defensively. Ellsbury looks great in left. I think he’s one of the best one or two left fielders in the game defensively. Cameron is doing his thing ‘ great instincts in center field, always takes the right route to the ball, hasn’t lost much ‘ if any ‘ athleticism. Beltre is Beltre at third. And Scutaro has been really reliable and showed good hands and range at short, and has started to work well with Pedroia already. They’re going to be fine. But the goal here is to be well-rounded and balanced. We don’t want to exceptional in any one area and deficient in any one area. We want to be pretty good in all areas, and that’s going to be the challenge throughout the year.
How exciting is it to have some minor league position players on the horizon who are ready to make an impact?
It’s a lot of fun to go down to the minor league side. You’ve got four fields going at the same time. Normally, in most camps that you’re around, you can lock in on one or two prospects, and when a certain pitcher is coming in on the other field, you keep your eye out for him. Or there’s one guy on the third field, you want to see his at-bats. But when you’re down in our minor league complex these days, your head is spinning, because every field is filled with prospects.
We feel great about the next wave coming in. They’re not just talented, they’re really athletic, and they’re big and strong. They’re all-around players who can impact us on both sides of the ball. They’re not necessarily ready right now.
A big part of our offseason was an endorsement of our next wave of young guys. We didn’t trade anyone away. In fact, we added draft picks. We know we’re going to have to wait a year, year and a half, two years for those kids to be ready. We want to make sure we have a chance to win a World Series in the meantime, before we start to be a good young team again that can build towards something special.
|04.04.10 at 1:24 pm ET|
Baseball is back!
The Red Sox and Yankees are set to open the season on Sunday night, with Josh Beckett taking on CC Sabathia, and WEEI.com will be there. Join Lou Merloni, Rob Bradford, Alex Speier, Mike Petraglia, Gary from Chapel Hill and others in the Virtual Pressbox. Weigh in on the game and your expectations for the 2010 season.
|04.04.10 at 12:34 am ET|
WEEI.com’s panel has weighed in with its predictions on who will win it all and with its prediction about what will transpire this year with all 25 members of the Red Sox. Now it’s your turn!
Who will win the AL East?
- Boston Red Sox (49%, 112 Votes)
- New York Yankees (46%, 106 Votes)
- Tampa Bay Rays (3%, 8 Votes)
- Baltimore Orioles (1%, 3 Votes)
- Toronto Blue Jays (0%, 1 Votes)
How will the Sox do in the regular season?
- Win AL East (43%, 96 Votes)
- Wild Card (42%, 94 Votes)
- Miss Playoffs (14%, 32 Votes)
How far will the Sox get in the playoffs?
- Win World Series (57%, 127 Votes)
- Lose in ALCS (22%, 49 Votes)
- Miss the playoffs (13%, 29 Votes)
- Lose in ALDS (4%, 9 Votes)
- Lose in World Series (3%, 7 Votes)
Who will win the World Series?
- Boston Red Sox (60%, 132 Votes)
- New York Yankees (15%, 34 Votes)
- Philadelphia Phillies (13%, 29 Votes)
- Colorado Rockies (1%, 3 Votes)
- St. Louis Cardinals (1%, 3 Votes)
- Chicago Cubs (1%, 3 Votes)
- Tampa Bay Rays (1%, 3 Votes)
- Chicago White Sox (1%, 2 Votes)
- Kansas City Royals (1%, 2 Votes)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (1%, 2 Votes)
- Atlanta Braves (1%, 2 Votes)
- New York Mets (0%, 1 Votes)
- Arizona Diamondbacks (0%, 1 Votes)
- Seattle Mariners (0%, 1 Votes)
- Washington Nationals (0%, 1 Votes)
- Los Angeles Dodgers (0%, 1 Votes)
- Florida Marlins (0%, 1 Votes)
- Toronto Blue Jays (0%, 0 Votes)
- Texas Rangers (0%, 0 Votes)
- Baltimore Orioles (0%, 0 Votes)
- Cincinnati Reds (0%, 0 Votes)
- San Francisco Giants (0%, 0 Votes)
- San Diego Padres (0%, 0 Votes)
- Cleveland Indians (0%, 0 Votes)
- Detroit Tigers (0%, 0 Votes)
- Oakland Athletics (0%, 0 Votes)
- Houston Astros (0%, 0 Votes)
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (0%, 0 Votes)
- Minnesota Twins (0%, 0 Votes)
- Milwaukee Brewers (0%, 0 Votes)
|04.03.10 at 7:56 pm ET|
What’s better than Truck Day for Red Sox Nation? How about Opening Day ‘¦ or in this case Opening Night. A special day already, Bud Selig and Co., decided to get things officially started in the American League East by sending the defending World Series champions to Fenway Park on Sunday night.
Sabathia had a dominating season against the Red Sox last year, going 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. However, Sabathia has had a history of struggling out of the gate. He owns a 12-12 record in the month of April sporting a 4.54 ERA, and Red Sox fans will remember his first start in pinstripes when he gave up six runs in just over four innings of work. History shows if the Red Sox are going to get Sabathia now is the time.
Beckett has seen the Yankees quite a bit during his time in Boston. He has a career 9-5 record with a 5.33 ERA, and the long ball has been a problem for him, especially last season. Beckett has surrendered 15 homers to Yankee hitters, but eight of those blasts came last season.
For all the question of the offense coming into the season, Sabathia might not be the ideal guy to face in the first game. Jacoby Ellsbury (.100 OBP) and Dustin Pedroia (.125 OBP) have had a hard time vs. the big left-hander over their careers, while the potential starting lineup has only mustered two homeruns off of Sabathia, both coming from David Ortiz. Mike Cameron sports the best numbers against his former Milwaukee teammate Sabathia, as he has slugged 1.000 against the former CY Young award winner.
This will be the first of many meetings between the hated rivals and there may be no better way to kick off the season. Play ball.
RED SOX VS. CC SABATHIA
David Ortiz (28 plate appearances against Sabathia): .269 average/ .321 OBP/ .538 slugging percentage, 2 homers, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
Marco Scutaro (21): .353/ .476/ .353, 4 walks, 1 strikeout
Kevin Youkilis (19): .294/ .368/ .353, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts
Dustin Pedroia (16): .067/ .125/ .067, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
Adrian Beltre (14): .077/ .143/ .154, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
Mike Cameron (14): .462/ .500/ 1.000, 5 strikeouts (3 doubles, 2 triples)
Victor Martinez (13): .182/ .308/ .182, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts
J.D. Drew (10): .200/ .200/ .300, 5 strikeouts
Jacoby Ellsbury (10): .100/ .100/ .100, 5 strikeouts
YANKEES VS. JOSH BECKETT
Derek Jeter (54 plate appearances against Beckett): .314 average/ .340 OBP/ .451 slugging percentage, 2 homers, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts
Robinson Cano (48): .341/ .396/ .659, 3 homers, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts
Alex Rodriguez (48): .279/ .354/ .488, 2 homers, 5 walks, 10 strikeouts
Jorge Posada (33): .323/ .364/ .355, 2 walks, 10 strikeouts
Nick Swisher (25): .238/ .360/ .381, 1 homer, 4 walks, 6 strikeouts
Mark Teixeira (25): .150/ .320/ .150, 5 walks, 8 strikeouts
Curtis Granderson (14): .143/ .143/ .286, 8 strikeouts
Nick Johnson (13): .333/ .538/ .556, 4 walks, 2 strikeouts
Brett Gardner (10): .000/ .000/ .000, 4 strikeouts
Randy Winn (8): .250/ .250/ .625, 1 homer, 2 strikeouts (Might get the nod if Johnson can’t go)
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