Results tagged ‘ Fenway Park ’

The Boone Identity: Remembering the Radical 2003 Yankees-Red Sox Saga

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If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.

In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.

Join me, will you?


 

The background

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It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.

But so much more happened before Game 7.

In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.

Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.

Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.

The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:

“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”

Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,

“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”

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Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.

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So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.


 

How we got there

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The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.

Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.

Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.

Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.

The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.

Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.

“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.

The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.

Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.

What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?


 

And then, everything explodes

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The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.

What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,

“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”

To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,

“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”

Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.

In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.

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Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”

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The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.

That is, until the bottom half of the inning.

Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.

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Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.

Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.

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Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.

But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.

An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.

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Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.

Yeah. That never happened.

Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.

In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”

That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.

BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:

“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”

The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.

Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.


Is this happening?

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Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.

Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?

“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”

But in the early going, it was  different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.

Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.

A caveat, though:  Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.

Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.

Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.

After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”

Torre quipped back: “I lied.”

Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.

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The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.

Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.

Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:

“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.

“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”

That dread was well-founded and soon realized.

Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.

Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.

The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.

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Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.

“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.

“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”

Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,

“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”

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The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:

Why Did You Keep Pedro In?


We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?


We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Oh, Pedro was awesome for seven,
And it looked like he could hang in.
Those two liners showed he’d become shaky—
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Though whacked cold, Johnny Damon kept waving;
The guys always want to stay in.
Of course, Pedro’d say he could blow them away,
But why did you keep Pedro in?


He could have left the hill as a hero—
We’d say Pedro had smoked them again!
You could not deny that his pitch count was high,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?


With each move you had out-managed Torre.
Yankee cheering was growing quite thin.
With such talented benches for backup,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?

 

The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”


 Sleeping on the X-Factor

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What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.

It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,

“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”

Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,

“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”

Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:

“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”

Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:

“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.

“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”

Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.

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Aaron Boone after hitting homerun in 2003 ALCS

Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.

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The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.

Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:

“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”

The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,

“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”

Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,

“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”

What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.

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“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.


 The aftermath and the impact of another curse

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While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.

Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.

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Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.

He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.

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Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?

Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?

We’ll never know.

To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.

Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.

And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.

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 SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.

DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)

Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)

Shipp’d up to Boston

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Without you, there’s no us. The greatest lesson I took from these past two days.

I spent this weekend up in Boston, Mass., my first trip to Beantown since a field trip I took with my seventh grade class in either 1999 or 2000. The primary reason I was in Boston this weekend was for the WWE’s annual November event, Survivor Series, which was held at Boston’s TD Garden.

My best friend and main bro Brian Chaires was able to snatch incredible floor seats for the show, and we even managed to get ourselves in the line of the TV cameras during World Champion and Boston native John Cena’s entrance for his title match vs. Alberto Del Rio.

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Some inside jokes and infamous quotes of this trip include:

“This looks like a post office, not a rest stop.”

“Dude, Zack Ryder is in the bathroom!”

“These drivers are Mass-holes.”

“I’m a New York driver. … I got this.”

“We are stuck in this hotel stairwell. We may need to call 911 to get us out. Help! Help!”

(Walking the TD Garden in Yankee gear) – “Where’d this guy come from???”

“Sweet home Oklahoma! Lord, I’m coming home to Normand!”

“Break me off that whole Kit-Kat bar, King!”

You had to be there to really appreciate how funny the situations were from which these quotes stemmed, but believe me, it was a riot. The wrestling event last night was just awesome, and today the baseball journey of our trip commenced.

Brian and I took a tour this morning of (you guessed it) Fenway Park, home of the reigning World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox.

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Typing that made me cringe, but the ballpark and the tour itself were absolutely marvelous. It was a little different than the Yankee Stadium tour, which I experienced last year, but overall I’d rate the tour of Fenway with a solid A+.

The tour, believe it or not, began at the Red Sox team store across Lansdowne Street. Each tour begins at the start of every hour; we missed the 10 a.m. tour and settled for the 11 a.m. go-around. We made some bad timing, arriving at Fenway only a little after 10, and had to brave the arctic freeze for a little while, but it didn’t stop us from some shenanigans while we waited.

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Our tour guide took notice of our obvious Yankee apparel, and joked with us about it. He went on to tell us that he doesn’t know what all the Yankees-Red Sox hype is all about sometimes, and that there are teams far more hated by the Red Sox right now than the Yankees. In his words,

“I probably hate the Rays more than the Yankees, at this point!”

After everyone assembled, we journeyed from the team store into the historic Fenway Park to begin the jaunt. Our tour guide first explained (briefly) the history of the ballpark; its age (101), how many World Championships the team occupying the park has won (8), and even went on to explain that a number of movies have been filmed at Fenway, including a pair of my favorites: Ted  and Field of Dreams.

The first thing I took notice of upon entry into Fenway was the “Boston Strong 617” jersey hanging from the wall, and in light of the tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon earlier this year, I thought it was pretty neat.

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From there we ventured inside and saw the field. It was quite a sight, not having seen Fenway in-person and only seeing it on TV, watching Yankees-Red Sox games. The television really doesn’t do the ballpark justice; you have to see it for yourself to truly understand its glory.

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They then let us into the visitor’s clubhouse. With couches and HD TVs, it looked like pretty nice accommodations, for a visiting team’s locker room. While we were in there, all I kept asking was, “Which one is Jeter’s locker?”

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We were then taken to seats along the left field line, which we were told are the oldest seats in Fenway; a section of wooden, navy blue seats. There we sat and got a more in-depth history of Fenway, with a lot of facts I didn’t know – and some I already knew. Here are some of my favorite factoids spoken about today:

  • Harry Frazee is the person most Red Sox fans blame for the Curse of the Bambino. Frazee, owner of the Red Sox in 1920, apparently disliked Babe Ruth so much because of his hardcore lifestyle (partying after games, etc.) that he sold him to the Yankees – that was of course after the Red Sox won five of the first 15 World Series in history. Additionally, Frazee cared more about Broadway musicals than baseball.
  • The Yankees owned Fenway Park when they signed Ruth, because the pact included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on the Red Sox home field.
  • New England schoolteachers apparently disliked the spelling of “Sox” initially. Also, the Red Sox only started spelling their team name with an “x” because the White Sox had done it.
  • The Green Monster was built to keep fans from watching the games for free behind the left field wall. Our tour guide called this “the biggest overreaction in baseball history.”
  • The ladder on the Green Monster: “the most pointless ladder in baseball history,” according to our guide.
  • Three men work the manual scoreboard inside the Green Monster. “There were four, but Manny Ramirez left,” kidded our tour guide. (I’ll admit, he was a knowledgeable joker). There are only three light bulbs inside the monster and no air conditioning during the summer or heat in the fall/early spring/winter. Two of the scoreboard operators have been doing their job for 20 years; the other has been there for 10. Those positions won’t be opening up anytime soon.

From there we scaled our way up to the top of the Green Monster to take in the view.

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I liked how “Boston Strong” was still mowed into the outfield grass.

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After the view from atop the Green Monster we climbed up to the press box, which seemed like a longer ascension than going up to the monster. Not for nothing, it was a hike! On the way there, we came across an artifact that made for a great story.

The Los Angeles Angels apparently gave every team in baseball a statue of Mickey Mouse for their respective ballparks – and each statue corresponds to each team. For instance, they gave the Yankees a statue of Mickey Mouse painted with pinstripes and interlocking NYs, looking like a real Bronx Bomber.

The Red Sox were given their Mickey Mouse in poor condition; in fact, his arm was broken when they received him. They made a joke out of it though, going as far as putting a sling around his broken arm. However, they eventually fixed him– and almost immediately after they fixed their statue of Disney’s lovable mouse, they started winning. And, as we know, went on to win the World Series this year.

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Perhaps I should’ve re-broke the arm before leaving.

Once we arrived at the press box, we got some more history of the park. A cool fact about the Fenway press box is that there is a row reserved for the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. It’s fantastic that Fenway acknowledges that elite group of baseball writers.

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We then went over a lot of things I already knew about, such as the instance of assigned seating in the press box, the names of the foul poles: the left field being the (Carlton) Fisk pole and right field being the (Johnny) Pesky pole, and the Red Sox retired numbers.

Number 42, as we all know, is retired throughout all of baseball. Our tour guide asked us, “who is this number retired for?”

In the spirit of the pinstripes I vociferously answered, “Mariano Rivera!”

 “Nice try,” he replied, as everyone laughed. He assured us that Boston, collectively, is relieved Rivera has hung ‘em up.

Relieved. Get it?

(Of course we all know 42 is retired for Jackie Robinson).

We were also told a wonderful story in the press box – fitting, because wonderful stories are usually produced in the press box.

According to this tale, the Citgo sign is Boston’s proverbial North Star; if you see the Citgo sign, you know Fenway isn’t far.

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A great player by the name of Joe Carter, famed for being a Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, loved hitting at Fenway because of the Citgo sign. A reporter remarked,

“C’mon, Joe. Citgo’s a gas station.”

Carter replied, “When I hit, I can C-IT-GO (see it go)!”

You can’t script baseball. And you have to be romantic about it.

After our time in the press box we walked down to the right field deck, where we got a good look at the famous lone red seat in the right field grandstand – denoting where the farthest-hit ball landed in Fenway’s 101-year history. Ted Williams owns the blast measured at 502 feet, crushed on June 9, 1946.

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The ball struck a straw hat-wearing gentleman in the head, who apparently fell asleep at the game. When the man woke up he was flanked by a medic and a reporter. The journalist asked him, “how do you feel?”

He replied, “How far away must one sit to be safe in this park?”

Poor guy.

The tour concluded in the Red Sox archive room, where a plethora of notable memorabilia is shown off. Among the hardware displayed: a bat signed by Babe Ruth, lineup cards, pictures of Red Sox teams past, ticket stubs to notable games (including the 1999 All-Star Game held at Fenway), MVP awards won by various Red Sox players, and the American League Championship trophies.

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I asked for the whereabouts of the World Series trophies, as they weren’t present in the archive room. They are stored in the corporate offices and there aren’t any replicas of them showcased. I explained how, at the museum in Yankee Stadium, there are replicas of the 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 trophies for show.

Even the tour guide and personnel at the end of the tour admitted there should be replicas for Boston’s trophies on display.

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I would say Brian and I had a lot of guts, strutting around Boston this weekend with enemy colors. It wasn’t easy; we heard some boos, received some heckling, ran into only two other Yankee fans, and we were even told the “NY” on our hats stands for “next year.”

On the tour a professional photographer took our picture at Fenway. He looked at us and asked, “Yankee fans?”

We apologized. “Sorry.”

But he didn’t make a joke out of it. He said something that’ll stick with me for the long haul:

Hey. Without you, there’s no us.

I had never really considered that. Every hero needs a villain. Every team needs a nemesis. Batman needed The Joker. Superman needed Lex Luthor. And the Red Sox need the Yankees, although in our minds, the Yankees are the heroes and the Red Sox are the villains. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, would the Yankees be . . . the Yankees?

I knew going to Fenway I would learn a lot I didn’t know – and I did learn a lot. Harry Frazee’s role in the Curse of the Bambino, the history of the Green Monster, and even an amusing anecdote about Mickey Mouse.

But I didn’t think going to Fenway would teach me a lesson. I suppose that’s the beauty of baseball.

Can we take it down to about a 4?

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The Boston Red Sox are your 2013 World Series Champions. And in case you haven’t heard, just look to your left. Or your right. Or up. Or down. You haven’t been able to look in any direction without seeing or hearing about “Boston Strong” these past few days, and not one to be a sore sport, congratulations to the Red Sox.

The team that wins the World Series is the best team, and there’s no doubt Boston put the best team in baseball on the field in 2013, capping a tremendous turnaround. Any Yankee fan or Red Sox hater would clearly look like an idiot trying to deny the resiliency, power, and fortitude the BoSox put forth this year.

Boston winning the World Series doesn’t bother me. However, there is an issue that has gotten underneath my skin, not just as a Yankee fan, but as a baseball fan.

Since the Red Sox clinched the title last Wednesday, the Twitter and Facebook feeds of MLB Network, MLB, and ESPN have gone absolutely berserk. Each social media contingent has gone fawning over Boston’s World Series victory – almost to the point of absurdity.

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Sure, there was bound to be a lot of chatter on social media the night of and the day after Boston beat St. Louis in Game 6. That’s acceptable and inevitable. Yet now, some four (nearly five) days after the fall classic has ended, social media is still abuzz with Red Sox pictures, posts and praise.

It’s funny. I do not remember the San Francisco Giants receiving this much laud days after winning it all last year. In 2011 I do not recall the Cardinals being shoved in the MLB fan base’s collective face so strongly.

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Even in 2009, the Yankees were not worshipped this much by MLB and ESPN. It’s almost as if everyone (running these social media sites) believes the 2013 Red Sox represented the second coming of Christ. In fact, I’m not even positive the New York Giants received this much adulation from the world in the days following their upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42.

We understand. We comprehend. We get it. The Red Sox won. Point taken.

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Probably the cheesiest picture and aspect of it all was the Twitter account I came across representing the World Series trophy. Yes, a Twitter account made for the World Series trophy. The “trophy” sent out a picture of itself with a fake beard on it, coinciding with the Red Sox trademark, scraggly facial hair this season.

Could you get any tackier, or any more shallow, MLB?  

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I also found it quite ironic that, on ESPN Baseball Tonight’s Facebook page, posted was a photo of Boston celebrating. Adjacent to it was a story with an attached picture of Alex Rodriguez, posing the question, “when his career is over, will Alex Rodriguez have been bad for baseball?”

It should come as no shock. Ever since 2004, a lot of fans have been under a well-founded impression that ESPN does the Red Sox bidding. Something like this only helps prove the point.

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When Boston swept Colorado in 2007, it was much easier to take, at least for me. I was a junior at Mercy College in New York with no Facebook and no Twitter. I had no interest in watching Boston win, and only watched briefly during Game 4 when Rodriguez opted out of his contract, a few short innings before Boston went on to win the title.

The Red Sox clinched the ’07 World Series on a Sunday night. With an early Monday morning class, I didn’t watch any TV; I was not subjected to the agony of watching the Red Sox dog pile, or the pain of the Boston champagne party.

The only tidbit I heard from anyone in 2007 – on Boston’s World Series victory – was from a professor, when I arrived at school that Monday. Wearing my Yankee jacket, the prof spotted me with a (bleep)-eating grin and remarked,

“Yankees, huh? I’m from Boston. A Red Sox fan. I’m having a good day today!”

I forced a laugh and replied, “Yeah, man. Live it up.”

That was it. Other than that, I heard absolutely nothing about it.

Fast forward to 2013 and it’s a totally different story. The advent of Facebook and Twitter did all but whack me over the head with a “Boston Strong” sign. The posts have gotten way out of hand and taking it as far as creating a Twitter account for the trophy is downright ridiculous.

This year took winning the World Series to a new atrocious level – and I mean a whole new level. Boston won. Congratulations Red Sox Nation.

Now, can we “take it down to about a 4” in terms of glorifying the Red Sox?

FINAL THOUGHT:

We can only hope the Yankees are not visiting Fenway Park when the Red Sox receive their rings next season. The Yanks had to suffer in 2005 (for the ’04 ceremony), the least the schedule maker can do is keep them away from Fenway for the 2013 ring party.

Then again, looking back on all these tweets and posts, MLB just might give us Yankee fans one final kick in the face for good measure, and schedule the ring ceremony on a day the Yankees are in Beantown.

He ain’t heavy, he’s our third baseman

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If you remember the movie “Spiderman 2” you may remember a scene on a New York City train that involved Spidey trying to protect innocent citizens from the hijinx of the evil Dr. Octopus. The Daily Bugle newspaper had done all it could to make Spiderman look like a menace rather than a hero, but being the true guardian he is, Spiderman still fought the villain.

As “Doc Ock” began to get the better of Spidey, a large Italian man – dare I say a stereotypical New Yorker – went to bat for Spiderman and said, “We’re New Yorkers. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!”

Might as well have been the slogan of last night’s fireworks during the Yankees-Red Sox game.

As Yankees fans, we may not be happy with Alex Rodriguez. There’s usually a media circus in baseball every season, but this year, it’s A-Rod who is driving the tiny car. The Biogenesis mess has turned Yankee fans on one of their own, as evidenced by A-Rod’s mixed reaction the day he made his first start at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 9. Up until last night, Yankee Universe only made time to cheer for A-Rod whenever he did something noteworthy at the plate, while booing him at every other chance.

But after last night there’s a better chance more Yankee fans will rally behind him.

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After Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster threw behind Rodriguez, he buzzed him inside on two more pitches – and it’s worth mentioning all three pitches were fastballs. On a 3-0 count, Dempster plunked A-Rod on the elbow, singlehandedly igniting the Yankees-Red Sox feud: a feud that’s been dormant for the better part of five years or so.

The benches cleared, the bullpens emptied, giving Fenway Park the ambience of old: the heated atmosphere once made famous by Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, and Pedro Martinez and Jorge Posada – and even Rodriguez and Jason Varitek. Heck, even Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis.

This time however it wasn’t Rodriguez who was all that upset, but Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, who had some choice words for Dempster. Girardi was absolutely infuriated with home plate umpire Brian O’Nora, as he never issued Dempster a warning, or even ejected Dempster, after clearly throwing at Rodriguez with intent.

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Girardi got his money’s worth and then some, vehemently arguing with O’Nora; getting in his face for a bad judgment call, not punishing a pitcher for an oh-so-obvious wrongdoing. Girardi may have been ejected as the Fenway faithful cheered wildly, but A-Rod had the last laugh.

In the sixth inning, Rodriguez took Dempster’s offering deep; 446 feet, as a matter of fact, over the center field fence, an A-Bomb which, according to ESPN, was the longest home run tape measured by a Yankee this season. The solo tater cut Boston’s lead to 6-4.

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Brett Gardner ironically enough stood up for Rodriguez during the fracas, and wound up clearing the bases later in the frame with a triple to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead, which they never relinquished. The Yanks got what they called “ultimate payback” by going on to win 9-6, taking the series from the Red Sox.

Rodriguez called Dempster’s decision to hit him “stupid, silly and “unprofessional” – and the thought never occurred to this writer that Dempster beaned Rodriguez because, being heavily involved in the union, he doesn’t like the fact that Rodriguez is allowed to play while his 211 game suspension is being appealed.

Actually, it didn’t occur to me until Girardi’s postgame presser.

“Ryan Dempster has hit six guys in 320 innings; he threw the first ball behind him – intentionally – he threw the next one inside, he didn’t hit him – intentional. At some point Brian O’Nora’s got to give him a warning,” Girardi told a crowd of reporters around his desk in the clubhouse.

“The one thing you can’t do is start changing the system because you don’t like it. Ryan Dempster has been a player rep, he has been very involved in the union, and he knows, this is what these guys decided to do [allow suspended players to play while appealing]. You can’t change it, just take your potshots.

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“I thought it was handled very poorly. Ryan Dempster didn’t hit Nelson Cruz. He didn’t hit Francisco Cervelli, you know? I think it’s flat wrong.”

Girardi went on to mention that he would be disappointed if Dempster didn’t get suspended and miss a start. In his own words, “it has to cost him (Dempster) something.” The Yankee manager added how he thought the Boston fans – more specifically the kids in the stands – cheering a hit-by-pitch was not right.

“What is wrong with people?” he continued. “You cheer when someone gets hit? What if that was your son? What if your son got hit? Breaks an arm, gets hit in the head, gets a concussion? I’d be embarrassed. And I see little kids in the stands. I wonder what’s wrong with our world today.”

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After Girardi said his peace, Red Sox manager John Farrell and Dempster both denied the intent behind A-Rod’s HBP; both said he was just trying to set up pitches on the inner half of the plate and establish the strike zone.

Now that it’s become apparent, what really may not make sense to many people is that Dempster and the union voted that players can play during suspension appeals, yet he still went after Rodriguez. Then again with the news of Rodriguez supposedly outing Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and teammate Cervelli, dropping their names in connection to

Biogenesis – perhaps he took issue with that.

Maybe that was the real reason he hit him?

What’s bogus were Dempster’s postgame comments. It was obvious there was indeed intent behind the bean ball; although there haven’t been too many pitchers who have struck batters intentionally like Cole Hamels (as he did with Bryce Harper) and openly told the tale of how he proudly and maliciously plunked a hitter.

If nothing else, A-Rod may have gained back support from Yankee fans. It’s possible, in fact likely. He himself even said the whole thing brought he and his teammates together. Yankee Universe of course has the mentality of, “it’s OK for us to be angry with our guy – with A-Rod – but it’s sure as heck not OK for anyone else to kick him when he’s down. Especially Boston.”

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Fully expect Rodriguez to get a huge hand during tomorrow’ doubleheader vs. Toronto at Yankee Stadium. Dempster may have done him a favor by plunking him, and in the process, refueled the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry tank: a tank that’s been seemingly running on empty for awhile now.

Boston and New York have seven games remaining against each other this season (four in the Bronx Sept. 5-8) and the last three at Fenway (Sept. 13-15). Therefore it’s possible Dempster and Rodriguez may meet again, which you can be sure, will
be quite an interesting encounter.

Rodriguez described himself as “pissed” after Dempster hit him. He added that the thought of charging the mound never entered his mind, because getting ejected and punished for a fight wasn’t an option. He called himself “too valuable to lose” when the Yankees are trying to win games. And while that may seem like an egotistical statement, A-Rod went on to say every Yankee player is too valuable to lose when they are trying so very hard to make a run right now.

Instead of starting more trouble Rodriguez kept his cool and got revenge a much better way: obviously a long, loud, momentum-swaying home run. Better than getting ejected and (gulp) suspended for a basebrawl.

Yet keep in mind, Girardi mouthed off to Dempster, and in his haste before getting ejected by O’Nora defiantly claimed, “Someone’s getting hit.” It may not have been last night, but with seven games remaining – bank on a Red Sox player getting beaned by a Yankee pitcher at some point in retaliation.

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Again, it will undoubtedly be interesting, however it all unfolds.

Because after all, we’re Yankees, right? You mess with one Yankee, you mess with all Yankees. Even if it’s A-Rod. I mean, he’s not heavy. He’s our third baseman.

Right?

Red Sox Learn the Lesson They Taught

The game was in the bag. The Red Sox tore apart Yankees’ starter Freddy Garcia and led 9-0 going into the sixth inning, ready to avenge their 6-2 loss to the Yank…Highlanders the day before – the day they celebrated Fenway Park’s centennial.

But Boston learned what they taught the Yankees in October, 2004: no lead is safe.

Mark Teixeira hammered a solo home run over the Green Monster in the sixth. The round-tripper was followed by a seven-run barrage by the Yanks in the seventh inning. If that wasn’t enough, the Bronx Bombers continued to slaughter the Boston bullpen, adding another seven runs in the eighth to complete an improbable comeback, finishing the Red Sox off, 15-9.

Incredible. An enormous lead and a surefire win for the Red Sox wiped away; another humiliating loss to their most hated rivals.

And to the Yankees and their fans: yet another feather in the cap; another triumph.

I watched the game up until the sixth inning. Basically I saw Teixeira’s solo home run, watched Philip Humber complete his perfect game vs. Seattle, and left the house, having covered a girls’ lacrosse game earlier in the day, and having been invited out to dinner by a group of friends last evening.

Assuming the Yankees were going to lose, I didn’t listen to the game on the radio in the car. I was left in utter disbelief when I found out the Yankees had pulled to within one run – and even more stunned when I heard they came back to win it.

As a matter of fact I was so excited, I did cartwheels in the rain. Here’s the proof:

Here’s what I made of the whole game…

Implosion

These past few seasons, the Yankees have a strange way about them when it comes to facing pitchers they haven’t seen. They don’t seem to generate sufficient offense against pitchers they have never faced. Because of that, it came as no shock to me that Felix Doubront was mowing the Bombers down one by one through the first six innings.

But Teixeira’s home run chased Doubront from the game and Boston’s bullpen – which is thin and weak – blew it. The Red Sox ‘pen pitched three innings, surrendered 14 runs (13 earned), issued four walks, and only struck out two batters.

It’s impossible to win when the relief corps can’t finish the game. Boston proved that yesterday.

Giving the Red Sox ‘pen the most problems was Nick Swisher, who not only clubbed a grand slam in the seventh inning, but picked up a go-ahead two-run double in the eighth which gave the Yankees a 10-9 lead.

Swisher finished the day with six RBIs – and he wasn’t the only Yankee with that many runs driven in.

Teixeira also punished the Boston relievers, notching six RBIs. He hit a three-run homer in the seventh to pull the Yanks within one run and later gave his team a cushion, smacking a two-run ground-rule double in the eighth to pad the lead.

Overall, what I took away from the bullpen collapse: a huge hole in their arsenal; a major vulnerability. If the Yankees were able to overcome a gigantic deficit and dismantle the Red Sox relievers, any team can – especially when the closer is blowing the game.

Alfredo Aceves is filling in for Andrew Bailey, the closer Boston signed to supplant Jonathan Papelbon.  The Red Sox have played 14 games this young season, and Aceves already has two blown saves.  He took the loss yesterday and his ERA is currently a bloated 24.00.

And it’s not just him.

Five of the six relievers the Red Sox used yesterday have an ERA over 4.00.

Boston is 4-10 right now, good for last place in the AL East. And if they don’t straighten out that bullpen in a hurry, things are only going to get worse for the boys from Beantown.

Freddy Garcia

Last weekend I covered a high school baseball game. It was a tight one, with one team winning by just one run, 4-3. The winning pitcher’s brother drove in what turned out to be the deciding run, and when I interviewed the pitcher after the game, he had one thing to say about his brother’s clutch hit that secured a win for him:

“I’ll be making a big dinner for him tonight.”

Freddy Garcia probably did the same for Swisher and Teixeira. They bailed him out of what would have been his second consecutive loss.

Garcia has not pitched a good game this year, at 0-1 with a 9.75 ERA. He’s averaged just four innings pitched per start, and only lasted 1.2 innings yesterday. The Boston offense did a nice job knocking him around in the early-going. Garcia let up five earned runs on seven hits without walking a batter and without recording a strikeout.

Not good.

It’s obvious his spot in the rotation is in jeopardy with Andy Pettitte about two and a half weeks away from being ready to re-join the show.

Via Twitter and Facebook yesterday, I read a lot of fan complaints about Garcia’s pitching. Lucky for them, he probably won’t be in the starting five much longer. When Pettitte returns, Garcia will most likely be relegated to the bullpen while the veteran southpaw gets slid into his rotation slot.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira

 

Twelve of the 15 runs the Yankees scored were driven in by Swisher and Teixeira. Both have been so streaky and hot-cold, but in the early part of this year have in a lot of ways cemented their value to the Yankees.

Swisher played a pivotal role in the second series the Yankees played this season in Baltimore, blasting what turned out to be the game-winning home run on April 11. The switch-hitting right fielder has 20 RBIs, which at the moment leads the American League.

There has been a lot of speculation (at least among some fans) about Swisher possibly being traded this year. But right now it’s not an option; the Yankees would be foolish to let him go, considering the way he’s been swinging the bat.

To bottom line it: Swisher is raking, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

As for Teixeira…

I don’t know how many times I heard Tim McCarver proclaim yesterday how much of a “notoriously slow starter” Teixeira is. Not that I usually agree with anything McCarver really ever says, but it’s true. Historically, the Yankee first baseman never comes out of Spring Training strong.

But in mid-2009 Teixeira claimed that his “home runs come in bunches” – and while it’s true he typically never gets off to a hot start, Teixeira’s statement about home runs coming in bunches is true.

Case in point: his two homers over the Green Monster yesterday.

Teixeira now has three homers on the year and is batting .288 with 11 RBIs. I wouldn’t exactly call that a slow start, but he has to become more of a situational hitter – like he’s been, so far.

Bobby Valentine

Throughout his tenure as Red Sox skipper, I never had anything negative to say about Terry Francona. I thought he did a lot right by his team; keeping troublemakers like Manny Ramirez in check and dealing with the unconventional, fun-loving ways of David Ortiz.

He led the Red Sox to the playoffs five times in the eight years he served as manager, winning two World Series titles along the way.

Francona will always be a beloved figure in Boston, like Joe Torre is in New York.

But after failing to make the postseason the last two years, the Red Sox brass moved him out as manager and moved in the always-controversial Bobby Valentine – who is a polar opposite of the type of manager Francona was.

Valentine has dug himself a fine hole, and hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the Red Sox fans. In both losses to the Yankees this weekend, the capacity crowds at Fenway Park in unison chanted, “We Want Tito!” at Valentine, showing their displeasure at how he has handled his team thus far.

I can’t say as I blame them.

Valentine has done a lot of talking and not a lot of winning, and I can see why that has rubbed the Red Sox fans the wrong way. He called out Kevin Youkilis, questioning the veteran third baseman’s commitment to the team. Valentine also agreed to appear on Michael Kay’s ESPN New York radio show once a week – another reason the BoSox fans are unhappy with him.

I’m not one to ever make predictions, because there’s an old saying about never being able to predict baseball. But looking at things objectively right now, I don’t see a way Valentine keeps his job all the way through the season. In other words, by the time the year is up, I don’t think he will be Red Sox skipper.

He may have been hot stuff in Japan, and he was able to maintain his post as head of the Mets for awhile, but Boston is a different type of baseball city. Valentine is a long way from Japan and even though New York and Boston are only 206 miles apart, he is light years away from his days as Mets’ manager.

The only way I see Valentine staying in Boston is if he closes his mouth and does some winning. Otherwise…

The game tonight has been postponed due to rain – probably the best thing to happen to the scuffling Boston team.

The Yankees (9-6), on the other hand, will go to Texas to play the Rangers tomorrow night, looking to roll their three game win streak into four.

Centennial Spoiled: Yankees Beat Red Sox

I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like 100 years ago. People my age were getting ready to fight in the First World War, the Titanic sank like a stone to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and gas cost 7 cents per gallon.

Oh, and Fenway Park opened. And while many things have changed a century later, the home of the Boston Red Sox has not. Fenway has such a rich history and what some people may not know is that the 100-year-old ballpark once belonged to the Red Sox most hated rivals.

That’s right. The Yankees once owned Fenway Park.

When the Yankees signed Babe Ruth, the deal included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Ergo, not only did the Yanks receive Boston’s best player, they owned Fenway Park at the time. 

But the Red Sox eventually gained back ownership of their home. And yesterday Boston’s favorite sons honored their ballpark’s centennial with a beautiful pregame ceremony – and to a Yankee fan like myself – an even more beautiful 6-2 loss to the Bronx Bombers…or should I say the New York Highlanders.

A lot to go over here.  First of all…

Pregame Respect

The Red Sox celebrated Fenway’s 100th year with a wonderful ceremony before the game. Countless players from the days of old were brought back and honored, not unlike the last game at the old Yankee Stadium in September, 2008.

I have to admit, watching it gave me goosebumps. The Red Sox fans are just as passionate and as sentimental about their players (past and present) as the Yankee fans are. The history is another comparable aspect of both teams. Obviously a comparison can be drawn, considering the long and storied existence of the Red Sox and Yankees.

Personally, I got a little teary-eyed when I saw legends Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky in wheelchairs, being wheeled out to the field by recently-retired Red Sox Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

Doerr and Pesky mean so much to their franchise, and it was nice to see them get the ovation they did.

It seemed the loudest reaction of the afternoon went to ex-manager Terry Francona. Tito came out and Fenway became unglued. I think the Boston faithful truly miss him, and would rather have a smart leader at the helm of the team (like him) rather than what they have now in Bobby Valentine.

Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, the Red Sox offered (an awkward) toast to the fans and to the ballpark. Longtime Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez saluted the crowd, then he and Kevin Millar grabbed microphones, and had some words while everyone went bottoms up.

“Who’s Karim Garcia?” Martinez asked, referencing the Game 3 brawl the Red Sox had with the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

“One more time,” Millar shouted. “Cowboy up!” – his catchphrase during the ’03 and ‘04 playoffs.

After that bizarre exchange of words, the ceremony ended. And with the Red Sox sporting the uniforms the team wore in 1912 – and the Yankees donning the vintage Highlander outfits, the game began.

Ivan Nova

What can you say about this young stud, other than that he has been the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher thus far. Ivan Nova tossed six strong innings and gave up just two earned runs on seven hits.

He didn’t issue a walk and struck out five batters.

Nova has really done a lot of good for himself, only three starts into this young season. It’s obvious he is locked in and focused; mixing his pitches, attacking batters with his slider, fooling hitters with his curve, and getting them to groundout with that tricky sinkerball.

What’s more, he isn’t killing himself with walks. He’s only issued two free passes this season – and both base-on-balls came in the same game (last Sunday vs. the Angels). He isn’t going out there and beating himself, to say the least.

With the win, Nova has now been the winner in his last 15 decisions, going back to last June – he hasn’t lost since June 3, 2011. His streak is the second-longest in Yankee history, behind Roger Clemens who won 16 consecutive decisions back in 2001.

Now at 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA for the year, Nova will have at least one more start this month (Wednesday April 25 @ Texas). If he manages to beat the Rangers, who are one of the hottest teams on the planet right now, I think it’ll be safe to say Nova is undoubtedly going to go on to have a wonderful year; possibly a Cy Young Award candidate when it’s all said and done.

It never hurts a pitcher to get off to a great start.

Long Ball

Derek Jeter reached base on an error by Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the top of the first; as a matter of fact, “Luis Castillo” trended on Twitter because of the miscue. Alex Rodriguez came up later in the frame, smacking a single to bring Jeter to the plate.

But from that point on, it was a home run derby, Highlander-style.

Nick Swisher took Boston starter Clay Buchholz deep in the second inning, an opposite field homer over the Green Monster. Later in the frame Eric Chavez took Buchholz’s offering over the centerfield wall.

And he wasn’t done.

Chavez homered in his next at-bat, another shot that just cleared the wall in center. It marked the first time since Sept. 18, 2005 that Chavez smacked two home runs out of Fenway Park. He previously accomplished the feat as a member of the Oakland A’s.

After Chavez’s homer barrage ended, it was Rodriguez’s turn. A-Rod absolutely slaughtered a ball over the Green Monster, out of the park and onto Landsdowne Street. It marked Rodriguez’s 631st career homer, and with it he passed his old teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. on baseball’s all-time home runs list.

A-Rod is now in fifth place on the all-time homers list. In front of him? Now, only Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

You’d think that would be enough taters for one day, but it wasn’t.

In the top of the sixth, Russell Martin got a hold of one, smacking a home run over the monster and hitting the Sports Authority billboard. It was Martin’s first home run of the year, and it was all the Yankees needed to beat Boston.

What surprised me the most was that each home run the Yankees hit today was a solo home run; not one runner was on base when each hitter went yard.

Buchholz gave up all five solo blasts – and it wasn’t the first time this year a Boston starter surrendered five round-trippers in a single game. Josh Beckett gave up five home runs to the Detroit Tigers on April 7.

It’s encouraging to see the Yanks hit some bombs, but there’s an old saying about “living by the home run and dying by the home run.” They cannot be reliant on the long ball all year, but I suppose if you get an exemplary start, as Nova gave them today, it doesn’t matter.

Overall

This was a big win for the Highlanders…Yankees today. Beating the Red Sox the day they celebrated their ballpark’s centennial: that’s huge.  

Imagine if the Yankees had hosted the Red Sox instead of the Baltimore Orioles in the final game at the old Yankee Stadium – and the Red Sox had beaten them. What kind of feeling would every Yankee fan have had?

Probably a very sick feeling. And that’s probably the feeling the Boston fans had today. As for the Yankee fans…it’s just another reason to gloat; another notch in our belts.

It was a major battle won for the pinstripe patrol, but the war is far from over. In fact, the soldiers will be right back out on the battlefield today at 4:00.

Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97 ERA) will lead the Yankees into battle, facing off with Boston starter Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA).

Aw-Phil Day: Yanks Give Boston First Win

 


1-6.The Boston Red Sox were 0-6 coming into their home opener against the Yankees. Behind some weak pitching on the Yankees’ part, the Red Sox changed that. Boston captured its first win of the year, beating the Yanks 9-6 this afternoon. It was almost as if the simple baseball game turned into a fierce tennis match, both sides going back-and-forth with the scoring.

Tied 6-6 in the bottom of the fifth inning, a double by Jarrod Saltalamacchia brought home Kevin Youkilis; making the game 7-6 in favor of Boston. Bartolo Colon, who put up such a valiant effort in relief, gave up the go-ahead run but it could have been prevented. An error by Mark Teixeira allowed David Ortiz to reach base, and the inning continued.

Boone Logan came on in relief in the seventh and gave up two more runs on a single by J.D. Drew. Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez came to the plate, Boston went up 9-6, and eventually they finished off the game.

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Yankees today. Obviously the biggest story…

Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes had another bad day

Two games for Phil Hughes this year, and both times he has gotten shelled. Today the 24 year-old righty was tagged for six earned runs on seven hits in just two innings. He didn’t strike anyone out and walked two batters. He threw 47 pitches, all of which lacked command, movement, and velocity. He did not trust his fastball, which topped out in the high-80s, low-90s, and tossed a lot of cutters.

Hughes’s day could probably be summed up with one pitch: the hanger he threw to Dustin Pedroia in the first inning. He hung a breaking ball a little too high and Pedroia pulled it over the Green Monster for a solo home run.

From there, he never recovered.

In his previous start, Hughes lost to the Detroit Tigers, pitching only four innings and giving up five earned runs on five hits. He walked two batters and struck out one, as many analysts noticed location and velocity were nowhere to be found in that start.

His season ERA after his first two starts: 16.50.

I got the feeling Hughes was going to struggle this season for a few reasons. First of all, go back and look at how he finished last year. He registered the loss in the 2010 All-Star Game for the American League and from there it all seemed to go downhill for him.

Going back to last year, Hughes has had it rough

He lost two important games in the American League Championship Series to the Texas Rangers – and both losses were all on him. He pitched very poorly in both starts and it cost the Yankees in a major way.

In fact, Hughes gave up 11 earned runs on 14 hits in those final two games last year.

Now fast forward and look at how he performed in Spring Training this year. His record wasn’t indicative of any failure (he was 1-0) but he gave up 10 earned runs in just five games. He also gave up four homers, his ERA was 4.09, and he pitched 22 innings giving up 24 hits.

It may not look like it in the box score, but he got knocked around all spring.

I had said on a few occasions that Hughes might have a year this year like A.J. Burnett had last year – not pitching effectively and thus ending the season with a lopsided win-loss record and a sky-high ERA. While it is early – extremely early – in the season, it looks as though my thought could be well-founded. Hughes is already 0-1 and pitched as if he should be 0-2 – the offense scored for him and got him out of a loss today.

Hughes keeps getting shelled

Last year Hughes had the best run support of any pitcher in the American League, the Yankees averaging almost eight runs per game on days he took the mound.

But he can’t live off that forever; eventually it will come back to bite him, like it did today. Hughes was lucky that John Lackey pitched just as poorly as he did, throwing five innings and giving up six earned runs on seven hits.

Lackey walked two batters and struck out two, but notched the win because the Red Sox were able to scrape across that run in the fifth while he was still the pitcher of record. All in all Lackey was lack-luster, but the Boston offense got it done for him – which was the story of Hughes’s 2010 season. He would give up runs, but the Yankees would score for him to get him off the hook and most times, get him a win.

And like Hughes, Lackey might not be so lucky his next time out.

After Hughes’s departure, ESPN insider Buster Olney tweeted: “You’d have to think that the Yankees will talk about replacing Phil Hughes in the rotation. For whatever reason, he has no weapons.”

All true. None of Hughes’s pitches are working for him.


No location.Right now, replacing Hughes in the rotation seems like a novel idea, especially since he admitted after the game that his arm strength is not where it should be.

And with the way Bartolo Colon pitched in relief (4 1/3 innings, two hits, two runs, one earned run, one walk, five Ks) he would be the obvious choice, although there are other options. Mark Prior is a pitcher they could call up, and Kevin Millwood isn’t far behind.

Heck, if the Yankees think about it, they still have Dellin Betances waiting in the wings.

What Hughes is showing right now reminds me of how Chien-Ming Wang pitched to start 2009. Wang struggled in the worst way and lost the faith of the Yankees. There’s only one thing that Hughes and Wang don’t have in common about their poor pitching in the early-going:

When Wang struggled, it was because he was hurt. There isn’t anything wrong with Hughes.

Wang was hurt, Hughes just stinks

Yankee manager Joe Girardi confirmed after the game that there is nothing physically wrong with Hughes and that he just needs to command his pitches better. Wang was injured and eventually landed himself on the disabled list following his subpar start in ’09.

At least Wang had a reason for his struggle. Hughes just hasn’t been pitching well.

Hughes’s next start is supposed to be on Wednesday at home against Baltimore – a team atop the AL East right now, playing exceptional baseball. However, the Yankees have an off-day on Monday and could work around Hughes, pushing him back.

The likelihood of Hughes being skipped (I would say) is pretty high right now. So far he is only proving that he has a dead arm, he has nothing behind any of his pitches, and he isn’t doing his job as the Yankees’ number three starter.

I still have faith in Hughes. I think if he physically gets himself back to where he was during the first half of last year, he can be as dominant as any ace in the league. But he needs to get there.

He needs to get his fastball back up to the mid-90s, blowing hitters away and not letting them catch up to it. He needs to get his breaking ball working again, fooling hitters with its movement. He needs to locate his pitches, and get them down in the strike zone – not leaving them up for hitters to feast upon.

phil-hughes3.jpg

If he does that, he will be fine. If not, it will be a long season for Hughes.

 

Another Guilty Party


Boone Logan is trashBoone Logan.

What is this guy doing on the team? Does he even have any business here in New York?

He is in the bullpen to be the Yanks’ lefty specialist, and so far he is not proving he is a lefty specialist because he isn’t getting any left-handed hitters out. Logan is only proving he doesn’t belong here, as he gave up a two-run single to Drew in the seventh. At that point the Yanks were only down by one run and still had two innings to scrape a run across and tie it up.

I think once Logan gave up those runs, the Yanks’ bats just gave up and never recovered.

 Logan was part of the Yanks’ meltdown on Tuesday to the Twins, and was even tagged with the loss in that game. Right now the reliever is 0-1 with an ERA of 13.50.

I know he is only filling in for Pedro Feliciano, who is on the DL with shoulder soreness. I hope Feliciano comes back soon, because the Yankee bullpen could sure use a lift.

And we could all use a break from Logan.

   

Bright Spots of the Day

A-Rod homered today.

Although it was a bad day for Hughes, Logan, and the Yankee team, there is some good to take away from it. Here are some things the Yankees did right today and some things we learned:

·         We now know Bartolo Colon can thrive in a long relief role. Despite the two runs (only one was earned) he cleaned up Hughes’s mess quite nicely.

 

·         Alex Rodriguez homered today, his fifth career round-tripper off John Lackey. He now has three homers on the year and he is hitting .304.

 

·         Curtis Granderson went the other way, slapping a double into left field. It’s good to see Granderson, a traditional pull-hitter, go oppo and hit to left field instead of right.

 

·         Derek Jeter had a hit and an RBI. He’s now 68 hits away from 3,000.

 

·         Brett Gardner had a triple, his first of 2011. He also stole a base, once again showcasing his Sonic the Hedgehog-like speed. A walk is as good as a double when it comes to Gardner. He can fly on the bases.

 

·         Robinson Cano, a lifetime slugger at Fenway Park, was 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. Cano seems to be heating up. Look out opposing pitchers…

 

Today is done and there is tomorrow afternoon to look forward to. Ivan Nova (1-0, 4.50 ERA) will look to get the Yankees back in the win column. He is facing Clay Buchholz (0-1, 5.68 ERA).

The Yankees vs. The Red Sox on Paper: The Infield

 


Yanks/BoSoxThe Yankees will need to maintain their focus if they plan on beating out the Boston Red Sox for the American League East in 2011. A lot of folks are already giving Boston the division, considering their off-season moves.

But excluding starting pitching, Boston and New York seem to be somewhat even.

Let’s examine…

1st Base: Mark Teixeira vs. Adrian Gonzalez


Tex vs. GonzoMark Teixeira’s batting average dipped to .256 in 2010, but he still managed to hit 33 home runs (to lead the Yankee team) and he knocked in 108 runs while scoring 113. He is a proven hitter and doesn’t need to be sold on, by any means. Everyone knows what a dominant hitter Teixeira can be, not to mention his defense at first is Gold Glove caliber and second-to-none.

Adrian Gonzalez will be playing his first season in 2011 as a member of the Red Sox and hasn’t played in the A.L. since 2005 (with Texas). He will have to adjust back to the pitching in the American League, but expect to see him do some damage; his swing is tailor-made for Fenway Park. Last year he hit 31 homers for San Diego, batted in 101 runs, and scored 87 times.

2nd base: Robinson Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia


Cano vs. PedroiaThe Yankees’ second baseman had arguably the best season of his career in 2010, setting career-highs in home runs (29) and RBIs (109). Robinson Cano came in third in the A.L. MVP voting and played in 160 games, showcasing his durability.

It’s safe to say Cano’s New York star is shining and he will continue to come into his own as a hitter this year. In 2010 on defense, he only committed three errors on the way to his first career Gold Glove.

Just as Cano was setting the Bronx on fire last season, Dustin Pedroia was igniting Beantown. That is until he fouled a ball off his left instep and was sent to the disabled list, ultimately ending his season. The night before he was injured, he went 5-for-5 and hit three home runs off the Colorado Rockies.

Pedroia ended the season with 75 games played, 12 homers, 41 RBIs, and an average of .288. He is bound to come back in the same form this year. On defense, Pedroia is one of the more solid second basemen in the A.L. He is always in the running for the Gold Glove Award and he already has captured one (in 2008).

In what could be a mini-storyline during the season, Pedroia made a recent comment about Cano, saying something along the lines of, “He’s become a (expletive) ballplayer.”

Cano should take that as a compliment. I would.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter vs. Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie


Jeter vs. Scutaro/LowrieEver since Nomar Garciaparra left Boston, it doesn’t seem as though the Red Sox have ever fully recovered at the shortstop position. They have had a parade of shortstops come in and out while none of them have really been mainstays. From Orlando Cabrera to Julio Lugo; now to Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie.

Combined last year, Scutaro and Lowrie hit 19 home runs and knocked in 80 runs. It’s possible they might be solution to Boston’s shortstop dilemma in recent years, at least in terms of their offense.

Their defense, however, is nowhere near perfect.

From the shortstop position last year, Scutaro and Lowrie combined for 19 errors, which by my math are 13 more than Derek Jeter, who only committed six errors last season en route to a Gold Glove.

Jeter’s offense last season wasn’t the best, though, as he hit a career-low .270 with 10 homers and 67 RBIs. He is hoping to return back to his normal BA of above .300. The Yankee Captain will also, in all likelihood, get his 3,000th career hit this year, as he is 74 base hits away from the milestone.  

3rd Base: Alex Rodriguez vs. Kevin Youkilis

A-Rod vs. Youk

In 2004 Alex Rodriguez came to New York and was forced to make the transition from shortstop to third base. Under the tutelage of former Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles, Rodriguez has become one of the better third basemen in the A.L., although he has never won a Gold Glove.

Kevin Youkilis has played a total of 219 career games at third base, so he may not have to adjust to the position as A-Rod did. Simply put, he has been there before. However, Youkilis only played two games at third in 2010, which may or may not have an affect on him.

As far as offense goes both players are established hitters, although some critics contend that Rodriguez is on the “down-side” of his career. If 30 home runs and 125 RBIs (Rodriguez’s offensive numbers in 2010) is a “down year,” I’m sure A-Rod will take it.

Youkilis hit 19 home runs in 2010 with an average of .307 and 62 RBIs.

Catcher: Russell Martin/Jorge Posada/Jesus Montero/Austin Romine/Francisco Cervelli vs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek

Yanks' catcher vs. Boston's catchers

I have heard it said that a catcher that can hit is a bonus.

Right now, it’s unknown who exactly will be the everyday catcher for the Yankees, but each of the candidates, whether they are on the MLB level or not, have proven that they can hit to some capacity.

Jorge Posada was named the everyday Designated Hitter, but there’s no doubt he will see some time behind the plate in what will most likely be his final year in pinstripes. Last season however, he showed that his defense is declining, as he only threw out 15 percent of base runners, allowing 72 stolen bases.

On offense last year Posada belted 18 homers and recorded 57 RBIs. His batting average was only .248, however.

A few weeks back Russell Martin admitted he “wasn’t 100 percent” but will be by the time camp breaks. Last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Martin hit five home runs with 26 RBIs. His batting average matched Posada’s, .248.

According to Hitting Coach Kevin Long, Jesus Montero is ready for the major leagues. Last season in Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Montero smacked 21 home runs and had 75 RBIs. Austin Romine is almost right behind Montero, as he blasted 10 minor league homers last years and knocked in 69 runs.

These two young studs are likely going to duke it out for a spot on the roster during Spring Training, so it’s anyone’s spot to win.

Francisco Cervelli is basically the odd man out here. Last year he showed inefficiency behind and at the plate. In addition to allowing 55 steals from the catcher position, he didn’t hit any home runs and drove in only 38 runs with a .271 batting average in 93 games.

As of press time, the Yankee catching job is not yet locked down.

For the Red Sox, it looks as though Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be their everyday backstop, with Captain Jason Varitek behind him. Saltalamacchia hasn’t really had the chance to prove his worth yet, as he only played in 10 games for the Red Sox last season with not many stats to look at.

Varitek only batted .232 last year in just 39 games with seven home runs and 16 RBIs. Clearly, he is nearing the end of his career. But much like Jeter, he is a born leader and he brings experience and veteran know-how to the clubhouse. This spring he will most likely be teaching the Red Sox catching prospects a thing or two about calling a ballgame behind the plate.

 

 

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