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Why you should have cared about Friday’s Red Sox game: Sox owner John Henry’s state of disbelief; Steven Wright’s case for 2015

09.26.14 at 10:14 pm ET
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It becomes a bit harder to write this on a night where the Red Sox owner wrote this:

So, we’ll keep this brief:

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

The Red Sox entered the year a wealth of upper levels pitching prospects in Triple-A and Double-A. Assessments of the team’s rotation depth naturally centered around Henry Owens (Baseball America’s No. 2 Red Sox prospect entering the year), Allen Webster (No. 4), Brandon Workman (No. 8), Matt Barnes (No. 9), Anthony Ranaudo (No. 11) and even Brian Johnson. Virtually no one was talking about Steven Wright, who — despite a solid first impression in some big league call-ups — went unranked by the publication.

Wright will not — or at least should not — be overlooked entering 2015.

The right-hander made his first big league start of 2014 on Friday night in an eventual 3-2 Sox loss to the Yankees. Against a New York lineup that looked like it was straight out of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he proved effective, allowing two runs (none earned) on four hits (all singles) in five innings. He walked two and struck out four, his knuckleball moving well enough that he gave fits to both the Yankees lineup and catcher Dan Butler (two passed balls). In 21 big league innings, he has a 2.57 ERA with 22 strikeouts and four walks. Of all the prospects whom the Sox have cycled through the big leagues from Pawtucket over the final two months of the year, Wright’s ability to throw strikes while eliciting either swings and misses or bad contact has been the most consistent.

The net result? Wright will be in the conversation going forward for innings at the big league level in 2015. His ability to change speeds and throw strikes with his knuckleball suggests a pitcher who has a chance to contribute to the Sox rotation. He will not be overlooked in prospect circles, and certainly not in the Red Sox organization, for what he might be able to offer going forward.

“He’€™s in the right place,” said manager John Farrell, “an organization that embraces this type of pitcher.”

OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT FRIDAY’S GAME

— Rusney Castillo, to underscore that Thursday’s home run power was no fluke, went deep again, crushing a slider from right-hander Shawn Kelly onto Lansdowne Street. In 30 big league at-bats, Castillo is hitting .267 with an .813 OPS. He’s showing a surprising ability to get his bat on the ball given that he’s facing big league pitching for the first time and that he’s doing so after what amounts to a 16-month stretch without playing in games following his defection from Cuba, and he’s not merely making contact but showing an ability to drive the ball.

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Derek Jeter: ‘If it was anywhere [but Boston], I don’t know if I’d play’

09.26.14 at 8:01 pm ET
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Derek Jeter celebrates his walk-off single Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. (Getty Images)

Derek Jeter celebrates his walk-off single Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. (Getty Images)

Derek Jeter acknowledged that he managed to claim little sleep on Thursday night, after he punctuated his career in New York with a ninth-inning walkoff single to right. The game — which he declared to be the last one he’ll play at shortstop — was a singularly emotional, draining experience, in which the Yankees captain found himself fighting back tears both in the clubhouse prior to the game and then again while on the field during the game.

“I can’€™t think of a better way to end my career at Yankee Stadium,” said Jeter. “You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

He was so emotionally exhausted, and simply fatigued from the lack of sleep, that Jeter said that Friday marked the first time in his career that he asked for the night off. Yet he does not want his final, singular Yankee Stadium moment to be his last ever on a baseball field. Though Jeter has Friday night off, he plans to play as either a pinch-hitter or designated hitter during the series. Had the Yankees been playing somewhere other than Boston, Jeter suggested, he might have called it a career after New York. But under the circumstances, he wanted to have a last chance to play at Fenway Park.

“If there’€™s anywhere to play besides New York, I guess it’€™s only fitting that it’€™s here in Boston because of all the games that I’€™ve played here, the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees. If you can’€™t do it in New York, this is the next-best place, I guess. … I’€™m playing here because I have respect for this rivalry, for Boston, and the fans. If it was anywhere else I don’€™t know if I’€™d play,” said Jeter. “My plan was always to play here. I wanted to take something from New York, that’€™s why I said it was my last time playing shortstop. I have the utmost respect for the Red Sox organization and their fans here. I would love to come and play here one last time.”

Jeter said that he had lunch and spent a bit of time outside in Boston on Friday, and that his reception was pleasant, welcoming. That, he noted, represented a dramatic change in his history in the city.

“People were just saying congratulations on the career and that I’m a Red Sox fan, I hate the Yankees but I respect you. It was brief. I wasn’t outside much because I hadn’t slept much. I tried to stay in. When I was walking here through the stands, there were fans cheering, which was kind of different,” said Jeter. “I remember coming here in the All-Star Game in ’99 and the car that was dropping us off went to the wrong entrance. I was out of the car walking to the stadium and I thought they were going to kill me, they were all over me. So it’s funny how things have changed. … I think after they won, it sort of — I don’t want to say they softened up, so don’t say they softened up, but I think they’ve become a little bit kinder. And thank you for that.”

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Jacoby Ellsbury: ‘I’ve loved my first season in New York’

09.26.14 at 6:28 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury‘s season is winding down in anticlimactic fashion. His first year in New York is ending not only without the promise of a playoff appearance, but also with Ellsbury sidelined by a hamstring injury.

Ellsbury’s year has been solid if somewhat short of his career norms. He’s hit .271 with a .328 OBP and .419 slugging mark, a bit down from his career line with the Red Sox of .297/.350/.439, though he did hit 16 homers (the second highest total of his career) and steal 39 bases, making him one of the premier power/speed combinations in the game, in 149 contests. Though Ellsbury characterized his season as ultimately disappointing based on the imminence of its conclusion for the Yankees, he also suggested that the transition from the Sox to the Yankees — in the first year of his seven-year, $153 million deal — had gone as well as he could have hoped for.

“I think a lot of my goals are team goals. Obviously it’s not a good feeling not to make the postseason,” said Ellsbury. “I know a lot of guys are going to work hard in the offseason from day one, try to get better. From a personal standpoint, I’m always setting the bar high for myself, always trying to improve. That’s going to be no different this offseason, but from a team standpoint, it’s something, yeah, you don’t want to experience again. When you do win, it’s the best feeling. You want to feel that again.”

As for his adaptation to New York, Ellsbury said that his first year with an organization other than the Sox had gone as smoothly as he could have hoped.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Ellsbury. “I like that comfort. I’d never been anywhere else. I like the, I always wanted to play for one team. It obviously didn’t work out that way. But this has been an unbelievable season in the sense of, the guys walking in the clubhouse, I’ve loved my first season in New York. I loved everything about it. I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about the next, at least, six years.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevin Millar on MFB: Derek Jeter ‘cannot not play’ this weekend at Fenway

09.26.14 at 12:58 pm ET
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Kevin Millar

Kevin Millar

MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar joined Middays with MFB on Friday to discuss whether Derek Jeter should play in his final series this weekend at Fenway Park. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Following Thursday’s walkoff single against the Orioles in his emotional final game at Yankee Stadium, Jeter said he will serve as designated hitter but not play shortstop when he faces the Red Sox this weekend.

Some have said Jeter should allow Thursday’s dramatics to go in the history books as his final sendoff and skip the Sox series. Millar does not agree.

“The one thing Derek knows is he’s got class. And he knows how important it is for him to play in this series,” Millar said. “I get you, it’s a great argument, it’s a great debate. Last night, storybook, you just ride off into the wind. The best thing for him would be if they won the World Series. … At the end of the day, it’s important for the fans, it’s important for the ownership of the Red Sox, it’s important for Red Sox Nation.

“It’s just, the rivalry. He cannot not play. So he’s going to do DH some, get out and they can say goodbye to him also. But that’s my point, is that: Get out there and appreciate this, because it’s over after Sunday. And then there’ll be another shortstop, they’ll go out and sign Hanley Ramirez or whoever their next generation’s going to be. … But we get a chance to see Derek Jeter, pretty cool, one of the greatest to ever play the game.”

Added Millar: “I think Jeter’s chapter he wrote, it’s already signed, sealed, delivered, that book’s closed. Now this is just a favor, a favor for the Red Sox fans and this rivalry over 20 years to play these next three days.”

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Friday’s Red Sox-Yankees matchups: Steven Wright vs. Chris Capuano

09.26.14 at 11:37 am ET
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The Red Sox start their final series of the year on Friday night when the Yankees come to Boston for Derek Jeter‘€™s last-ever games in the major leagues. Knuckleballer Steven Wright will get the start against New York’€™s Chris Capuano.

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

Pitching in place of Rubby De La Rosa, Wright (0-0, 3.38 ERA) will be making his first start of the season with the Red Sox. The last time Wright pitched this year was three innings out of the bullpen on Saturday against the Orioles. He gave up three hits, one run and struck out six.

Though he has not made a start in the big leagues this season, Wright has one relief outing where he pitched five innings. Wright struck out six and allowed just three baserunners and no runs over five innings on Sept. 7 against the Blue Jays at home. This performance came during fellow knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’€™s start. Dickey got the win, but he said he was impressed with Wright’€™s pitching.

“To be honest, he had a better knuckleball than I did tonight,” Dickey said. “Our velocities are a little different. We had a light wind at my back, which made it tough to make it move the way I wanted, but it was moving enough to get off the barrels today and I made some big pitches when I needed them.”

Wright’€™s game plan against a powerful Blue Jays lineup was simple: Just throw strikes.

“It felt good to get out there. I was just trying to throw strikes, as many strikes as I could, then hope to put it in play with some weak contact so I could try to go as deep as I can,” Wright said.

Wright made one start in 2013, coming against the Astros in August. He lasted just one inning and was charged for three runs. This season with the Pawtucket Red Sox, the right-hander pitched to a 5-5 record and a 3.41 ERA in 15 starts.

Wright has never faced the Yankees in his brief major league career.

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Even after heroics, Derek Jeter vows to play at Fenway Park

09.25.14 at 11:49 pm ET
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Derek Jeter celebrates his walk-off single Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. (Getty Images)

Derek Jeter celebrates his walk-off single Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. (Getty Images)

When asked to describe what he saw unfold in New York Thursday night, David Ortiz simply said, “Perfection.”

Derek Jeter punctuated his Yankee Stadium career in unbelievable fashion, singling in the game-winning run to hand the Yankees a 6-5, walkoff win over the Orioles Thursday night. Making the moment even more incredible was that the only reason Jeter had the opportunity to claim his opposite field, RBI single was because Baltimore claimed two home runs in the ninth off Yankees closer David Robertson, eliminating a three-run New York lead.

“Wow. That’€™s him. Perfect,” Ortiz said. “I would say the Yankees fans this year, they’€™re not going to go to the playoffs, but that was like a playoff game right there when you end up winning it. It was unbelievable.”

After the game, in an interview with MLB Network, Jeter said that he would play during the Yankees three-game set against the Red Sox at Fenway Park this weekend “in some capacity,” but not while playing shortstop.

(Jeter’s family is slated to be at Sunday’s game, with Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig scheduled to be in attendance at Saturday’s tilt.)

“I think he should, and he will,” said Ortiz when asked about Jeter playing. “Even one at-bat. I know that he probably will be thinking about leaving it right there. But he’€™s a guy who knows what he does very well. Everybody is expecting him to get an at-bat or play in a game, or whatever.”

For more on Jeter’s final game in the Bronx, click here.

Why you should have cared about Thursday’s Red Sox game: Rusney Castillo went next level

09.25.14 at 10:26 pm ET
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Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox

Fellow Red Sox rookie Christian Vazquez congratulates Rusney Castillo after the outfielder’s first career home run. (Getty Images)

Since Rusney Castillo arrived with the Red Sox, the reviews have been mixed.

The outfielder has shown an ability to go get the ball in the outfield, while taking to coaching like the Red Sox would hope he would. He showed hints of pop, particularly to right field. Conversely, Castillo’s much-publicized speed has come under some scrutiny, possessing a pedestrian time of 4.4 seconds down the first line (due in part to an aggressive hitting follow-through).

It all added up to four hits in 23 at-bats (.174) with one run and a single RBI (claimed on a bases-loaded walk).

Thursday night, however, Castillo went next-level.

The rookie play a key role in the Red Sox’ blowout, 11-1 win over the Rays at Fenway Park, launching his first big league homer — clearing the left field wall with at three-run blast off a 92 mph fastball from Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson. He also just missed a second by a few feet, having to settle for a seventh-inning double.

“I have been feeling more comfortable,” Castillo said through translator Adrian Lorenzo. “I’€™m feeling closer towhere I want to be, so it’€™s like anything else, with some more time and somemore repetitions you get to feel a little bit more comfortable and confident. But yeah, I feel like I’€™m on my way there.”

With catcher Christian Vazquez hitting a second-inning homer over the left field wall, and Garin Cecchini sending a fly ball over the right field fence Wednesday night, the Red Sox have had three rookies hit their first major league homers in the past two nights.

Like Castillo, Vazquez’ night wasn’t just limited to a home run. The backstop went 4-for-4 with three RBI. Also pitching in for the offense was fellow rookie Bryce Brentz (2-for-4).

Also of note was Allen Webster’s outing. The righty starter turned in yet another solid performance, this time allowing one run on seven hits over seven innings. He struck out five and walked one while throwing a season-high 99 pitches.

In his last three starts, Webster — who has implemented his four-seam fastball a bit more of late — has allowed four runs in 18 2/3 innings, striking out 10 and walking three.

“Much like we talked about with [Anthony] Ranaudo last night, the final start of the year with some increased confidence going into the offseason and even furthermore, with Webby, just some momentum as he finishes things out this year,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell.

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