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Sandy Leon gets his redemption in walk-off win over Pirates

04.06.17 at 12:13 am ET
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Sandy Leon hit a walk-off three-run homer in the Red Sox' win over the Pirates. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Sandy Leon hit a walk-off three-run homer in the Red Sox’ win over the Pirates. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

In a game which was scoreless until the 12th inning, Sandy Leon was one of the reasons why.

Back in the third inning with two outs, Leon doubled down the right field line and then Dustin Pedroia ripped a single to right. The ball was so sharply hit it was in Andrew McCutchen’s glove right around the time Leon rounded third base, but the catcher ran right through Brian Butterfield’s stop sign and was thrown out at home.

Had Leon stopped at third, the Red Sox would have had first and third with two outs and No. 2 hitter Andrew Benintendi at the plate. Instead, the game remained scoreless and did for a long time.

“I didn’t see Butter. I just kept running,” Leon admitted after the game.

“He ran through it,” manager John Farrell added. “He’s doing what we can to try and get to home plate. He is not the swiftest of guys on the base paths. Like I said, unfortunately ran through a stop sign in that case.”

There would be no offense to come by as both teams couldn’t get anything going. The more and more the game went along, it looked like Leon could be most remembered for blowing through the stop sign all the way back in the third inning.

That all changed in the bottom of the 12th inning when with one out and runners on first and second, Leon crushed an 0-1 offering from left-hander Antonio Bastardo into the Monster seats for a walk-off, three-run home run.

Given the sub 40-degree temperatures, Leon got all of it.

“The pitch was right in the middle so I put a good swing on it and it was a homer,” Leon said afterwards.

It was Leon’s first career walk-off hit of any kind and was his third hit of the game, as he went 3-for-5 falling a triple shy of the cycle. The catcher has opened the year on fire, as he is 5-for-8 with two runs scored in the two games.

He had a slow start to the spring, but picked it up towards the end and has carried it over to the start of the season. Farrell explained the likely reason for the slow start in Fort Myers.

“Early on, catchers are at such a disadvantage because they are catching, in this particular case, once every three days and [get] maybe two at-bats,” he said. “Until minor league games opened up then we can go get them four, five at-bats on a given day. You saw the quality at-bats in the last seven to 10 games of spring training starting to become more crisp. Certainly, [he] has taken another step here in the first couple of days.”

On a night which could have ended a lot worse, ultimately it was Leon getting the final say.

“He certainly redeemed himself with the final swing tonight,” Farrell said.

Read More: John Farrell, Sandy Leon,

Matt Barnes slated to miss at least 3 games while on bereavement list

04.06.17 at 12:02 am ET
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Matt Barnes confirmed to WEEI.com after the Red Sox’ 12-inning, 3-0 win over the Pirates Wednesday night that he would be missing at least three of his team’s games while attending the wake and funeral of his grandmother.

Under Major League Baseball regulations, a player who is placed on the bereavement list is obligated to miss a minimum of three games, but no more than seven. It is put in place for players who must attend to a serious illness or death in his immediate family.

Through the Red Sox’ first two games, Barnes has been used as one of John Farrell’s most important relievers. After pitching in the seventh inning in the season-opener, the righty came on in the eighth to toss a scoreless frame in what was a 0-0 tie.

Candidates to replace Barnes on the Red Sox 25-man roster include Noe Ramirez, Kyle Martin, and Luis Ysla.

After years of dreaming about Chris Sale, Red Sox were presented with a pretty impressive wake-up call Wednesday night

04.05.17 at 10:03 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Bob DiChiara/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Bob DiChiara/USA Today Sports)

Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada might be really, really good at some point in the next few years, but if you’re into instant gratification Chris Sale is your man.

If you wanted a blueprint for what any team would expect from the starting pitcher they acquired when giving up their top two prospects, Sale delivered it to you Wednesday night.

Zero runs over seven innings. He struck out seven, allowed just three hits, and didn’t walk a batter until the second-to-last Pirate the lefty faced. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

Sale did what he does. He worked quick. He dominated both sides of the plate. And he missed bats with fastballs, chanegups and sliders (14 swings and misses). The only negative for pitcher was that he didn’t get decision, having to leave in a midst of scoreless affair.

Ultimately Sandy Leon’s three-run, walk-off home run in the 12th inning allowed Sale’s performance to not go for naught. And the fact that relievers Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Robby Scott, Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly helped team to not allow a Pirates baserunner to pass first base all night was something.

“I felt good. I felt confident,” Sale said. “I felt like I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes. Not only that but ahead in the count, behind in the count, off-speed stuff. Credit goes to Sandy though. He was the one calling the pitches, I was just the one throwing them. When you can have confidence in the guy behind the plate like that, it’s huge. Just watching him hit that home run, that was fun.”

Still, this was Sale’s night.

“Walking out for Opening Day was awesome. That’s a feeling I’ll never forget. I’m very appreciative of that. I know that’s not easy to come by. Walking out to the bullpen today before I even threw my first warmup pitch, people were losing their minds,” he said. “Walking off in the seventh inning, that’s another feeling I’ll never forget. That’s special. That’s awesome. And I appreciate it.”

The Red Sox’ starter couldn’t help it if the Red Sox couldn’t do anything against another pitcher also born in Lakeland, Fla., Pittsburgh starter Jameson Taillon. The second overall pick in the 2010 draft, who was taken nine spots in front of Sale, was virtually just as good, also turning in seven innings of shutout ball.

But no matter the final outcome, with 160 games to go we were granted a reminder why Red Sox fans have been obsessed with Sale for the last three years.

This was the guy so many thought would be impossible to pry from the White Sox. Three years left on his team-friendly deal. Just 28 years old. It seemed like a pipe dream.

There have been others.

Remember how the fan base lusted after Hanley Ramirez while he was emerging into one of the best offensive players in baseball in the years after joining the Marlins?

How about those five-for-one packages proposed for Felix Hernandez?

(Courtesy BaseballSavant.com)

(Courtesy BaseballSavant.com)

Adrian Gonzalez became a reality, but only after a few years of unrealistic trade proposals.

The Giancarlo Stanton dream came to an end with his contract extension, but that only paved the way for Sale to enter the conversation.

Who knows where it’s going to go from here. It’s easy to suggest this is going to be the beginning of big things. But that’s what we insisted last season after David Price’s six-inning, two-run, 10-strikeout gem of a debut in Cleveland a year ago.

Before Price there were guys like Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who both allowed just a run over seven innings in their first games pitching for the Red Sox.

It is hard to imagine Sale falling of the same cliff those others did as their inaugural season with the Red Sox unfolded. This has been one of the best pitchers in the American League over the last five seasons, and strong starts aren’t anything new to the southpaw. Last season he didn’t allow more than three runs in any of his starts until his 10th appearance (coming on May 24).

But for this night, anyway, Red Sox fans got their wish.

“I get nervous before every game,” Sale said. “Tonight was a little bit different obviously. It was my first time pitching here in the home whites. Running out of the first base dugout is pretty awesome. It was special. I appreciated it, too. I tried to go through my routine and do everything I normally do but also soak it all in at the same time.”

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

The Red Sox have allowed runs in just one of their 21 frames this season.

Red Sox notes: What is Joe Kelly’s role after not pitching in 8th inning on Opening Day?

04.05.17 at 5:35 pm ET
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Joe Kelly needs to work his way into being able to work the eighth inning. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Joe Kelly needs to work his way into being able to work the eighth inning. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

One of the biggest questions following Opening Day was what is Joe Kelly’s role as he was assumed to be the eighth inning guy, but instead it was Robbie Scott and Heath Hembree combining for a 1-2-3 inning.

Speaking prior to Wednesday’s game, manager John Farrell indicated Kelly needs to work his way into such a role after the way he closed out the spring. Kelly threw 9 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and striking out nine, but did walk eight batters.

“He fits in the middle,” Farrell said. “I mentioned the other day, we come out of spring training with guys in a short list a little bit ahead of others. That is the way it played out the other day. We have to get Joe going a little bit to take on the potential of the eighth inning. We’re going to mix and match as best possible and matchup to get to [Craig] Kimbrel until things become a little bit more solidified.”

[UPDATE 12:15 a.m.: Kelly picked up the win Wednesday night by tossing a scoreless two innings and allowing only one hit against the Pirates. He’s now won 13 straight decisions dating back to 2015.]

One reliever who may not be available is lefty Robbie Ross Jr., as he is the latest member of the team to come down with flu-like symptoms. Other players are Mookie Betts and Brock Holt, who will not be available on Wednesday.

“We’ve got a few guys that we are paying close attention to and whether or not they are available tonight remains to be seen,” Farrell said. “At the outset, particularly Mookie is not.”

The flu has been going through the Red Sox clubhouse for several weeks, dating back to when the team was in Fort Myers. It is not the worst Farrell has seen, though.

“In ’08 it ran through our clubhouse extensively,” he said. “I think we had a 22-day road trip leaving Florida through Tokyo to L.A., to Oakland, to Toronto and back here and I think everyone got run down. It was pretty ramped that year as well.”

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

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Read More: Joe Kelly, Robbie Ross Jr., Tyler Thornburg,

After roller coaster spring training, Drew Pomeranz slated to make first start Sunday

04.05.17 at 5:04 pm ET
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Drew Pomeranz (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Photo)

Drew Pomeranz (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Photo)

There was the late season move to the bullpen. Then came the stem cell injection. That led to a delayed appearance in spring training, with a hiccup in the form of a sore triceps.

But after all of it, it sure looks like Pomeranz is ready to make his first scheduled start of the season, Sunday.

“I feel about normal for the beginning of the year,” Pomeranz said. “I feel great. I’ve got 90 pitches in, I feel that’s what most people did the last start anyway, so I feel I’m right where I need to be.”

Pomeranz came through his bullpen session at Fenway Park Wednesday in good shape, two days following a six-inning, 90-or-so pitch outing at JetBlue Park against minor leaguers.

“I felt a lot better,” he said. “I made some good strides the last couple weeks as far as building up arm strength. I feel like I’m in a good spot now.”

Because of the new 10-day disabled list rule, Sunday would be the first day Pomeranz would be eligible to be activated to the 25-man roster. If the Red Sox aren’t postponed Thursday, Eduardo Rodriguez is slated to start, with Steven Wright opening the series in Detroit Friday.

“My goal from the get-go was to be ready for Sunday or whatever,” Pomeranz said. “I’m just waiting to hear.”

David Price throws off mound for first time since seeing Dr. James Andrews

04.05.17 at 4:59 pm ET
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David Price threw off a mound for the first time since seeing Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

David Price threw off a mound for the first time since seeing Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

David Price continues to take baby steps in coming back from a left elbow strain suffered in late February.

The left-hander saw Dr. James Andrews the first week of March, but nothing serious was found. Price has started the year on the disabled list, but continues to make progress in working his way back.

He took another step Wednesday by throwing off a mound for the first time, although manager John Farrell made sure to clarify it was just playing catch and more so to get the feeling of a mound under his feet.

“Threw some long-toss today out to 100-plus feet and then got on the mound for an additional 25 throws,” Farrell said. “Not with a catcher down, but just more for David to feel the slope of the mound under his feet, throw the ball downhill a little bit more. The most encouraging thing is each throwing session he goes through, he comes out feeling good physically and will look to do the same tomorrow with maybe a little bit more distance with long toss.”

Farrell added: “It’s important to categorize it as it was not to a catcher, it was just to feel the slope under his feet.”

Currently, Price is on a throw for three consecutive days before taking a day off program. There is no timeframe for when he gets back to throwing live off a mound, but although it’s been a slow process there have been no setbacks to this point, which is certainly a good thing.

For more Red Sox news, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: David Price,

Poll: No active MLB player ranks among Americans’ 50 most favorite athletes

04.05.17 at 4:58 pm ET
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Red Sox outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. can give baseball some needed star power. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Red Sox outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. can give baseball some needed star power. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

MLB’s dwindling national popularity isn’t a new story. But one recent poll shows how far baseball has slipped.

The firm Luker on Trends, which powers ESPN’s Sports Poll, surveyed more than 6,000 American sports fans, aged 12 and older, between November and February. When the respondents were asked to name their favorite athletes, only three baseball players, all of whom are retired, were mentioned often enough to crack the top 50.

Derek Jeter leads the pack at No. 13, despite walking away from the game 2.5 years ago. He’s followed by another Yankees great, Babe Ruth, who passed away in 1948. ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the author of the piece, notes Ruth is the only player on the list who hasn’t played in eight decades. Pete Rose rounds out the group at No. 50, perhaps thanks to his anti-hero status. The all-time hits leader has been suspended from baseball for 28 years.

The first active player to show up on the list is Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He clocks in at No. 51. Last year, David Ortiz was the only active MLB player named, landing at No. 23 overall.

In comparison to other professional sports leagues, MLB is lagging in terms of star power. Fifteen active NFL players, six active basketball stars and one active hockey player –– Sidney Crosby –– make the list. International soccer sensations Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are also more popular in the U.S. than anybody currently playing professional baseball.

There are several reasons for this phenomenon, which Stark outlines in the piece. The dynamics of baseball make it impossible for star players to stand out every game, like they do in the NBA or NFL. During the waning moments of an NBA contest, the ball is almost always in the best players’ hands. The same is true in the NFL. But in baseball, the batting order dictates who steps to the plate in crucial situations. Mike Trout and Kris Bryant are often unavailable when their teams need them most.

The 25-year-old Bryant, by all accounts, is a star. He plays third base for the world champion Cubs and won the NL MVP during their first championship season in 108 years. Despite his gaudy statistics, though, he’s also susceptible to uneventful nights where he goes 0-for-2 with two talks. Fans who buy a ticket solely to see Bryant, or any player, will likely walk away disappointed. That’s not the case in the NBA, where LeBron James or Stephen Curry seem to always put on a show.

If the realities of baseball make it difficult to market individual players, the climate of MLB makes it near impossible. While scores of stars in other sports speak out on social issues, baseball players adhere to a culture of silence. Young stars fear breaking one of the game’s antiquated “unwritten rules.”

Today’s consumers are obsessed with superstars. Baseball has none. While MLB can do little about the natural flow of the game, it can try to start changing the environment around big league clubhouses. MLB’s best players must be encouraged to show personality. The game’s popularity largely hinders on it.

Read More: MLB,

Red Sox lineup: Mookie Betts latest victim of flu, Xander Bogaerts moves up

04.05.17 at 3:11 pm ET
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Mookie Betts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Mookie Betts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox were able to escape any repercussions Opening Day when it came to the flu that was sweeping through the clubhouse. But they had no such luck in Game 2.

As John Farrell first revealed on the Dale, Holley & Keefe Show, Mookie Betts is the latest victim of the sickness, forcing him out of the Red Sox’ lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the Pirates.

Without Betts, Chris Young will get the start in right field against Pittsburgh starter Jameson Taillon, a right-hander. Xander Bogaerts also moves up to the No. 3 spot in the batting order.

Here is the Red Sox’ lineup with Chris Sale on the mound for the hosts:

Dustin Pedroia 2B
Andrew Benintendi LF
Xander Bogaerts SS
Hanley Ramirez DH
Mitch Moreland 1B
Chris Young RF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Sandy Leon C

For all the Red Sox news, go to the team page by click here.

Coolest Play of the Week: Andrew Benintendi 3-run homer on Opening Day

04.05.17 at 10:55 am ET
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Each week, we will be picking the F.W. Webb “Coolest Play of the Week.” This week’s highlight is from Opening Day. Andrew Benintendi hit his first home run of the season, a three-run shot in the fifth inning that opened up a 5-0 Red Sox lead over the Pirates. Check out the replay below:

 

F.W._Webb_Company_logo200Enter to win the Coolest VIP Baseball Experience including the chance to watch batting practice and visit the WEEI Broadcast Booth at Fenway! Click here to enter to win.

Why in the world are they shifting on Sandy Leon?

04.04.17 at 12:31 pm ET
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Sandy Leon (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Sandy Leon (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

It was one of the biggest plays of the Red Sox’ season-opening win over the Pirates. A Sandy Leon bunt.

Hitting left-handed with two outs in the fifth inning and Pablo Sandoval at first base, Leon put adeptly placed a 95 mph fastball from Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole to a wide open left side of the infield. After Cole wasn’t able to reach the bunt in time, it kept the inning going long enough for a Dustin Pedroia RBI single and Andrew Benintendi three-run home run.

Why would Leon try such a maneuver with two outs? Because the Pirates had put their third baseman in the shortstop position, leaving virtually the entire left side of the diamond vacant.

“I was getting ready to hit and I saw the shift way over to second base. I just wanted to get on base,” he said. “I’ve got Pedey on deck, and I know what he can do. Just playing for the team, just trying to get on base for the team and for Pedey.”

What is going on?

A few years ago, the notion of shifting on the No. 9 hitter in the batting order, a career .187 at this time a year ago, was unheard of. For instance, in 2012 teams shifted on the last batter in the lineup for 118 plate appearances. But 2016? The nine-hole batter saw 1,195 such situations.

Times have certainly changed, as is evident by the amount of times balls were put in play with shifts on last season.

According to Fangraphs, in 2012 there were 4,576 plate appearances with shifts. The next season it was at 6,881. In 2014 the number crept to 13,298, and then 17,737 in ’15. And last season the ploy went to another level, with major leaguers totaling 28,072 PAs with a shift in the mix.

And here’s the thing:with more shifts came less success for the defenders, with batting averages finishing at .299 vs. the maneuver in ’16, the highest since they started tracking such things.

Perhaps Leon represents how crazy it has gotten.

Sure, the spray chart shows that he is primarily a pull-hitter when putting balls on the ground from the left side. But here’s the thing: Nobody in baseball had a better average in 2016 when facing shifts than Leon.

In 83 plate appearances against shifts, Leon managed a .438 batting average. Even the year before, when he was still being classified as a well below-average offensive threat, the switch-hitter had eight hits in 24 at-bats (.333) vs. the strategy.

Then there is the reality that Leon is probably the Red Sox’ best bunter, and executed an identical strategy last Sept. 9 against the Padres — leading to a single, which was followed by a Jackie Bradley Jr. homer.

Maybe shifting will reach a tipping point, thanks in part to the realization that players can do what Leon did Monday. But don’t count on it. Baseball has come to believe it can’t possibly out-think itself.

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