Scrollable Photo Gallery: Scenes from the Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez Fight, 10 Years After

          July 24, 2004: NEW YORK 10 @ BOSTON 11

Tens years ago today, the 2004 Red Sox beat the New York Yankees 11-10 in a ballgame most remembered for the showdown between Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek. It has already been dissected and cited at long length as a symbolic turning point in both the two teams’ rivalry and Boston’s baseball fortunes as a whole and as they pertained to the 2004 World Championship run.

The image of Varitek accepting an immediately regrettable verbal challenge from A-Rod and unexpectedly plunging into Rodriguez and body-slamming him is ubiquitous with the RIVALRY at this point. But as we all remember that moment fondly, let’s not shortchange the drama that came in the hours before and afterward as part of the slugfest. Provided below are just a few visual reminders of the scene at Fenway Park one late afternoon in the heat of the summer a decade ago.

Prologue

 

Exposition

 

 

 

Conflict Rising

 

Peak Rivalry

 

Aftermath

 

Denouement



This Week in Boston Baseballing, July 12 – 18

Boston took two of three against the Astros in Houston before heading off for a four-day All-Star Break hiatus. The team enters the second half of the season 9 ½ games out of the race for first place in the AL East.

Dustin Pedroia (2.6) and Brock Holt (2.2) are the team’s leading position players in terms of WAR. Jon Lester (4.2) and John Lackey (2.4) pace the pitching staff.

According to FanGraphs’ projections page, the Red Sox have a 6.2% chance of making the playoffs as either the winner of the AL East or as one of the two Wild Card teams that face off in a one-game series prior to the American League Division Series. However, FG reckons they have just a 1.1% shot at making the ALCS. In other words, basically every player would have to outperform their projected stat lines for the remainder of the season for the team to climb back into things.

The 2014 Season’s Parallels With 1996 Aren’t So Bad…
It has been rare for a Red Sox team to struggle this mightily this early in the season over the past few decades. Even during the abortive 2012 season under Bobby Valentine, the team had postseason aspirations well into July.

This season, by comparison, has been much more akin to 1996. But that does not have to be a bad thing. From Matt Martinelli on the Improper Bostonian website:

Making their major-league debuts in 1996 were Trot Nixon (a cameo game for the former first-round pick) and Nomar Garciaparra, who shot through the minor leagues at a Mookie Betts pace. Youth won the day on that 1996 squad, which got its most valuable contributions on the offensive side from the 20-something crew of Vaughn, Valentin, Naehring, O’Leary, Bragg and even Jeff Frye. Garciaparra’s one month of play set him up for his dazzling 1997 rookie year, and the 1998-99 playoff appearances for the Sox.

A repeat of the 1996 season, which included an action packed final two months, a ton of playing time for the young kids, and an exciting charge by the free-agent-to-be ace pitcher is about what Sox fans should be hoping for at this point. Oh, and if the Sox go on a run to win twice as many games as they lose (like they did to end 1996), that would put them at 88 wins. It might be good enough for a division title in this parity-filled year. Maybe something might be a bit different from 1996 after all.

The following season in 1997 wasn’t exactly a bowl of fun, but by and large the Sox were competitive into late summer during each of the final years of the Duquette regime in 1998-2002. And that was with a John Harrington ownership group and the coaching staff that was strife with turmoil and mis-management. A similar wave of young talent in addition to a much more competent ownership group and front office should take the sting out of one outlying year of underperformance.

Is Jon Lester a Goner?
On Wednesday, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian brought up the “real possibility” that Jon Lester may be in a different uniform next season. The Red Sox offered Lester a lowball offer of four years at $70 million earlier this spring. The team has since done the high-wire act during the first half of the season, basically leaving the door open for more serious offers without actually extending a more serious offer. The front office has greased the skids for his departure. Whether or not they have done so intentionally or they have simply fumbled these negotiations beyond repair is completely debatable and open to interpretation.

The $70m offer may not be all that unreasonable, though. Back in March, we wrote about Lester’s contract in the context of how the team has handled David Ortiz, who the club has never let reach true free agency. The Red Sox have paid Ortiz well to be a cornerstone of the roster, one of the better DH’s in the game but by no means a steal in terms of value because he brings no defensive value.

As a left-handed pitcher in his early 30s, Lester might simply be destined for a nine-figure deal one way or another. He is more underwhelming from the perspective of star power and charisma than a guy like Ortiz. Nevertheless, the best guess here is that he slots in at about 5 years and $125 million. There is a chance some team loses its mind and goes even higher and/or longer. If that’s the case, we’d prefer if that temporary insanity belongs to a team other than the Red Sox.

This Week in Boston Baseballing, June 20 – 26

More of the same frustrating story for the Sox. The offense showed up just in time during the finale of a four-game set in Oakland to prevent a sweep at the hands of the AL-best Athletics. Boston moved on to Seattle on Monday night and, once again, the team mustered only one win – a 5-4 win on Wednesday night in Clay Buchholz’s return to the rotation. The team was outscored 20-4 in the first two games of the series against a largely underwhelming Mariners offense. Boston would need a sweep in the Bronx this weekend to salvage a .500 record on the 10-game road trip.

Boston is unfortunately learning the hard way that two-run home runs from super-utility guys like Brock Holt are fantastic, but they don’t win many games all by their lonesome…

Postseason Hopes Fading
According to FanGraph’s Playoff Odds tool, the team had a 13.4% chance of reaching the postseason as of Friday morning (7.7% as the AL East champ; 5.8% as a Wild Card).

Trade Anxiety Mounting
Fill in the first blank with any veteran starting pitcher and the second with whomever you so desire to be the team’s power-hitting outfielder and you’ve got much of the talking head “FIX IT” narrative over the past few weeks covered. Events transpiring over the past week may shift the focus overwhelmingly toward punting the season.

On ESPN Insider, Dan Syzmborski cites the 2012 mega-deal with the LA Dodgers as a precedent for recovering value on a lost season. He covers all of the trade possibilities, which can basically be broken down into a few categories:

- Veteran position players who have limited, short-term value in the coming months: Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes

- Veteran starting pitchers with theoretically high upside: Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, John Lackey

- Elite bullpen arm: Koji Uehara

- Proven™ bullpen lefty: Andrew Miller

- Idiot free-swinging catchers who roll over outside pitches to second base to ground into double plays and kill rallies during high-leverage situations: A.J. Pierzynski

Many have pointed to July 1 as a good cutoff for a clear decision on either riding out the roster in hopes of making the playoffs or cashing out on older players and acquiring prospects. Boston will have to play incredibly well against the Yankees this weekend to change any minds by next Tuesday.

Club executives have already begun circling the wagons around the idea that, yes, Boston fans smart and understanding enough to support a “Sell” mentality next month.

For the record, this space is officially on board with the sell veterans for prospects route no matter what happens over the next week.

Clay Buchholz Looking Much Improved
On a positive note, Clay Buchholz looked good in his first start in nearly a month on Wednesday night in Seattle. Sure, he gave up three home runs and some other loud noises, but he also managed to touch 92-93 mph with his fastball and pitch into the 8th inning while throwing only 76 pitches.

This Week in Boston Baseballing, June 13 – 19

Boston’s long slog back to .500 continues. The Red Sox split a four-game set with the Indians last weekend and then earned a three-game sweep in a ridiculously well-pitched three-game series against the Twins that saw a total of seven runs scored between the two teams.

The finale on Wednesday was the type of win every good team needs once in a while. John Lackey went nine scoreless, but the Sox entered the bottom of the 10th inning down a run after Koji Uehara uncharacteristically surrendered a homer (Chris Parmalee, no less). Enter David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who went back-to-back to end the ballgame and clinch the sweep.

Boston began a West Coast road swing last night in Oakland against the Athletics, who came into the series boasting a differential of nearly 100 runs better than any other team in the American League. They added to that with a 4-2 win behind Scott Kazmir, who kept the Sox in check for seven innings aside from allowing a two-run homer to Dustin Pedroia.

The Red Sox Starting Rotation Could Get Crowded
On WEEI.com earlier this week, Alex Speier noted the importance of the club’s rotational depth, which has been a chief reason that the team’s hopes of making a run at a playoff spot this fall are still alive. In the absence of Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, Rubby de la Rosa and Brandon Workman have made the most of their opportunities.

Though both Workman and De La Rosa are relatively young in age (both are 25) and baseball years, both offered the Sox players with some big league track records of success. Yet even while those track records suggested that they might not be overwhelmed, the fact that they have yet to encounter a major hiccup is noteworthy.

In five starts by Workman and four by De La Rosa, both have thrown five or more innings every time they’ve taken the mound; Workman has yet to allow more than three runs, while De La Rosa has given up four in two starts and none in two starts, including Monday’s one-hit, three-walk, three-strikeout effort in which he elicited 12 outs via ground ball.

De la Rosa’s fastball velocity in his four starts has been particularly impressive. He’s the only pitcher on the team who is capable of going out and throwing 94-95-mph consistently for six-plus innings. And yet, he’s blooming at a time when Clay Buchholz is just about ready to rejoin the rotation.

Meanwhile, Workman’s six-game suspension offers Felix Doubront an opportunity to start tonight against Oakland. Coming back from a bruised shoulder, Doubront will pitch for the first time since May 20. He has thus far underwhelmed with a K/BB rate of 31/19 in 45 innings this season. The guess here is that if Doubront shows some life on his fastball, he may be moved to the bullpen as potentially a better lefty option than Chris Capuano, who has been used sparingly over the last two weeks.

Brock Holt!
When a utility infielder who looks like Matt Damon circa Good Will Hunting makes his first start in center field and does things like this, he’s going to win a lot of fans in Boston.

Brock Holt


The Grady Sizemore Experiment Comes to an End
Boston designated the struggling outfielder for assignment on Tuesday and called up Garin Cecchini for what could be more than just a one-day stint (as the team did earlier this month). Ben Cherington left the door open for Sizemore to potentially return to the system on a minor league contract after the 10-day waiver period. Sizemore is reportedly still healthy, so its likely some team looking for outfield depth will take a flyer on him.

Looking back at Sizemore’s Boston tenure, Shane Victorino’s prolonged absence forced the team to cross its fingers and entrust the veteran outfielder to be a key contributor in the offense. From Baseball Reference’s Lineup summary page for the team: Sizemore was the No. 5 hitter in the most common batting order used by John Farrell this season. Granted, Farrell has only used that order four times in 73 games, but Sizemore led off 10 times, slotted in at No. 5 for 15 of his starts and as the No. 6 hitter in another eight games. Sizemore simply did not hit for enough power to justify being an everyday starter in a corner outfield position, let alone a middle-of-the-order presence.

 

This Week in Boston Baseballing, June 6 – 12

Three outs away from being swept in Detroit, the Red Sox came to life in the 9th inning on Sunday night, thanks to David Ortiz. Papi hit a moonshot off Joba Chamberlain to give Boston a 5-3 victory. The win reportedly came on the heels of the first “team meeting” called by John Farrell. The three-city, nine-game road trip still wound up a disaster as the team finished with a 2-7 mark after losing lose two of three against the Orioles in Baltimore.

The Sox returned to Fenway Park last night and won, 5-2, behind another strong outing from Jon Lester and this insane throw from Jackie Bradley Jr.

To Sell or Not to Sell
With Boston tied with Houston and leading only Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card standings going into last night, a healthy discussion has begun regarding a trade deadline that could involve the Red Sox as sellers rather than buyers. Boston has historically been a buyer around the end of July with only a few exceptions over the years. Most notably, the team was eventually a seller during the 2012 season. But that mega-deal with the LA Dodgers came in late August, nearly four weeks past the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Cherington’s public stance as of Monday:

“Obviously we’re not happy with where we are,’’ said Cherington, who joined the team here Tuesday and spoke with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “That’s not up to our standard. We still believe it’s going to get better. We believe we have a very good team ahead of us this year. Most of that will come from within, guys here performing, getting back to a level they’re accustomed to.

“So look, we’re all in this together. We know collectively we have to get better. We’ve got to perform better. That starts with me. We have to make that happen. We’re not ready to proclaim this has to happen, or this has to happen. It won’t be any particular move.”

For what it’s worth, Boston inked outfielder Andres Torres earlier this week. He is unlikely to be ready before August and looks like nothing more than a right-handed platoon partner for Jackie Bradley Jr.

Debating John Lackey’s $500k option for 2015
Using a SoSH user poll as a proxy, it seems that the vast majority of Red Sox fans think John Lackey should be willing to play for $500,000 in 2015 since that’s what his original contract with the Red Sox calls for if he missed a season. Would he play for the league minimum is another question entirely, of course. Boston is in a precarious position with Jon Lester heading toward a likely nine-figure free agency contract and Clay Buchholz no longer looking like a reliable front-end starter. There is probably some angst on both sides of this business arrangement, even though neither has expressed it publicly. The best solution is probably one of those perfect compromises in which both sides give a little and walk away slightly unhappy. As of right now, if there were Vegas odds made for who would start Opening Day for the 2015 Red Sox, John Lackey would probably have the shortest odds given what we know right now.

Brandon Workman Takes No-Hitter into the 6th Inning
The lone Red Sox win in Baltimore came thanks in large part to Brandon Workman’s 6 ⅔ shutout innings against the formidable O’s offense. It was the team’s first 1-0 win of the season. Overall, Workman’s been fine as a fill-in starter. His K/BB rate (21:10) over 28 innings isn’t great, but he’s been solid enough to join Rubby De La Rosa as a guy who could be given an extended shot in the starting rotation this summer.

 

Blogger Gabe Kapler tells his readers how to work out, eat right and blow a better load


Former MLB player and one-time Red Sox fan favorite Gabe Kapler’s lifestyle/health blog “Kapstyle” is a fantastic source of information. Kap’s written about a whole host of topics, his favorites being weight lifting, cross training, weight management, workout routines and all the other similar stuff you expect from a dude of his stature.

In a column posted on Monday, Kapler extolled the many virtues of coconut oil, including everything from its dietary advantages to its dermatological powers to its ability to whiten teeth for a fraction of the price of those whitening strips.

But the bodybuilder-cum-professional athlete-cum-sports analyst-cum-blogger saved the best for last:

You’re moisturized and smelling tropical, your teeth are white and your face looks like you’ve just visited a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. The sun has set, and the moon is out. Perhaps you have a friend nearby, perhaps it’s just you by your lonesome…well, this is awkward. I’ve promised you authenticity, honesty and openness. Take this how you wish and I’ll spare you the step by step. Coconut oil is the world’s greatest lubricant. I can’t help where your mind goes with this. Once the ball leaves the bat, I can’t steer it.

Sleep well,

Kap

Gabe buried the lede here and he clearly has little respect for that whole inverted pyramid reporting style. But he more than makes up for it with his well-crafted subtlety. When was the last time a sports column in the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald told you about something that feels awesome on your genitals?

Thanks to Kapler, the world may almost be ready for Wade Boggs’ “lifestyle” blog…

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This Week in Boston Baseballing, May 30 – June 5

The Red Sox swept the Tampa Bay Rays last weekend in a series that began with some serious back-and-forth between David Ortiz and David Price on Friday night. John Farrell was ejected, teams were warned, aggressions ran high.  Somehow, Mike Carp took all the posturing personally and after he took exception to being hit by an inside pitch, the benches cleared. Things went as they typically do after that. Boston was on its fourth manager by the end of the game,  a Sox victory on a walk-off gapper from A.J. Pierzynski.

Boston Wins Seven In A Row
The bench-clearing nonsense the night before gave way to some of the team’s best baseball of the season on Saturday and Sunday. Rubby De La Rosa and Jon Lester pitched gems and Brock Holt swung a red-hot bat (four doubles in four ABs on Sunday).

The Sox hit the road on a seven-game win streak before old friend Justin Masterson shut the offense down for 7 innings on Monday night en route to a 3-2 Cleveland win. The offensive silence continued for the remainder of the series as the Indians swept the Red Sox courtesy of a walk-off 12 inning home run from Asdrubal Cabrera on Wednesday night.

The feast or famine Red Sox begin a three-game series against the Tigers tonight in Detroit.

De La Rosa Gets Called Up, Dazzles
De La Rosa was promoted to fill the hole created by Clay Buchholz’s trip to the DL. But he may be here to stay for a while if Saturday’s performance is a sign of things to come. From the ‘mikey lowell of the sandbox’ on the Sons of Sam Horn message board:

Rubby de la Rosa’s 2014 major league debut was nothing short of spectacular. 100+ heat? Check – Rubby rang the bell at 100.5 mph in the third inning, touched 98 as late as the seventh inning, and averaged 96.6 on 39 fastballs. Dominant changeup? Check – 46 changeups, 37 for strikes, 13 for whiffs, in any count and to any location. Legitimate secondary pitches? Check – 12 sliders, mostly to RHB, and 3 of them for whiffs; and 8 sinkers, averaging 95.3 mph. De la Rosa pitches backwards — throwing fastballs out of the strike zone and changeups for strikes. He doesn’t seem to get distracted by runners on base.

De La Rosa is just the latest reminder that pitching really isn’t this team’s problem. Through Wednesday, the Red Sox pitching staff led the major leagues with a total of 9.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The Braves (8.1), Yankees (7.7), Athletics (7.5) and Nationals (7.3) rounded out the top five best staffs in terms of overall WAR. (For those out there who enjoy the Cherington Screwed Up the Bullpen narrative: that 9.5 WAR includes a major league-leading 3.2 from relievers.)

Garin Cecchini Gets Called Up, Gets a Hit, Goes Back Down
One of the organization’s top prospects saw unexpected game action on Sunday when Dustin Pedroia was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. The infielder was up as a one-day band-aid with Stephen Drew not slated to return until the following series in Cleveland. It was a sip of coffee rather than a cup. But Cecchini made the most of it with a beautiful, inside-out swing for a double and his first major league hit.

Mookie Betts Gets Called Up…To Pawtucket…
News of Betts’ promotion to the PawSox came over the transom on Tuesday. From the GM:

“You look at his performance over the course of the season to date and he’s really excelled in every area of the game,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “He’s controlling the strike zone, he’s running the bases, he’s playing defense, he’s obviously hitting, he’s hitting for power, and I think at some point, we have an obligation to challenge our young players when they are performing at a level where it’s not certain that they’re being challenged, it’s up to us to make sure that they’re being challenged.”

If Cherington is being genuine here, Betts has to be considered a viable candidate to contribute to the big club later this season, either as a mid-season “acquisition” in lieu of a significant deal prior to the non-waiver deadline on July 31 or as a September call-up.

Jon Lester’s Revival and David Ross
Jeff Sullivan writes that Jon Lester’s on pace to shatter the number of called third strikes located outside of the strike zone he’s accumulated in a single season. While some of those punchouts are surely due to perfect execution from Lester, David Ross’ ability to frame the outside corner should not be overlooked. Lester has, based on Baseball Savant’s pitch tracking tool, reaped the benefit of 27 punchouts in which the pitch was outside of the strike zone.  

With Pierzynski, in three games, Lester has registered five called strikeouts. Three were out of the zone. With Ross, in nine games, Lester has registered 34 called strikeouts, and 24 of them were out of the zone. Ross, as a catcher, doesn’t lead baseball in called strikeouts on balls, but that’s because he isn’t a regular starter. On a rate basis, he’s No. 1. Here’s some work between Lester and Ross from Sunday afternoon:

At the moment, there might be no better battery than Lester and Ross. Or maybe there are better batteries, but this is a good twist for Lester and for his career, as he’s posting ace-like numbers in a season in which his team badly needs them. Lester has lifted his strikeouts, and a big part of that has been working with his catcher to expand the called strike zone. To a reasonable extent this should be sustainable, and it doesn’t look like there are many reasons for the Red Sox to have Pierzynski catch Lester all that often. Jon Lester’s always had the pitches he’s throwing. Right now he’s finding a way to get the most out of them.

We’re all for any useful data that helps to justify keeping A.J. Pierzynski’s at-bats to a minimum.

Boston Drafts Two High Schoolers in First Round
The Red Sox took two high school players as their first two selections in a draft for the first time since 2002. Boston took shortstop Michael Chavis with the 26th pick of the first round and pitcher Michael Kopech with their compensatory selection (for Jacoby Ellsbury).

From ESPN analyst Keith Law:

Their first-rounder, Michael Chavis, was getting consideration in the teens as a polished high school bat who makes a lot of hard contact but doesn’t have projection and will have to move off shortstop; it’s funny that the Sox took him, as I see some similarities to Dustin Pedroia -– both hitters have great hand-eye coordination with unorthodox swings, and Pedroia also was a shortstop who had no physical projection and had to move to second base in pro ball. In between those picks they took a hard-throwing Texas right-hander in Michael Kopech, who brings mid-90s velocity with a sharp slider but a funky, arm-heavy delivery that the Sox might have to tame to keep him healthy.