|ESPN.com: Buster Olney||[Print without images]|
|David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia say they're having fun this season -- and it shows on the field.|
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When the Red Sox decision-makers sat last winter to evaluate players -- their own and those who might be available -- some form of this question was asked repeatedly: What type of person is he?
In other words: How tough is he? How will he fare in an intense atmosphere like Boston? How will he react to the intermittent failure that is inherent in baseball? How will this player -- pitcher or hitter -- fight through each at-bat?
The question had been asked in past winters, as one of those in the room noted, but there was a much greater emphasis on this following the debacle of 2012, when the Red Sox -- unhappy with manager Bobby Valentine -- seemed to just surrender on some days. Nobody wanted to see this happen again, so the Red Sox worked to stock the team with players seen as strong character guys.
Through the first half of the season, Boston has the best record in baseball because it has gotten strong starting pitching from Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Doubront. They are getting All-Star-caliber seasons out of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.
But the Red Sox team that seemed to hate coming to work in 2012 now appears to relish each day -- to do all of the necessary preparation and work, to embrace the struggle of each pitch and each at-bat, to hang out and live and work and breathe baseball. Ortiz clasped his two hands together in the visitors dugout Saturday evening, interlocked his fingers and said, "This team is like THIS! This team is like THIS!"
The change started last winter with that question that was asked in the Red Sox meeting. It started with Dustin Pedroia working with Jose Iglesias -- not only on his swing, but on his mind, challenging him to work to a higher standard. It started with Lackey recommitting himself to baseball, getting in so much better condition that when John Farrell first saw him in December, his first words -- said in astonishment -- were, "What happened?"
The change continues now, in moments like this: Daniel Nava walked up to bullpen catcher Brian Abraham three hours before Saturday's game and asked very specific and detailed questions about Jerome Williams' curveball: How much does he use it? When does he use it? And Abraham answered immediately.
It continues in moments like the Red Sox had on Friday night, when Iglesias was at the plate and took a poor swing. He glanced over in the Red Sox dugout and Ortiz and others were slamming two fists together, one on top of the other in the way you hold a bat, with a clear message: Let's go! Step it up! When Iglesias returned to the dugout, he thanked the others for helping to get him into the proper mindset.
Ortiz raved about the toughness of Jonny Gomes and others, right up until the end of Boston's batting practice, and as he walked back to the clubhouse, Pedroia walked past, carrying a bat and a glove, in full uniform, ready to go.
The game wasn't scheduled to start for another 45 minutes.
"Do you think the [another team Ortiz named] have a guy in the dugout now, before a game?" he asked loudly.
Ortiz was fully into speech mode now. "No way! No [expletive] way!"
Probably somewhere else, there are players who are ready to go very early, and other teams have players who were chosen carefully by their respective organizations and have a lot of mental toughness.
But the Red Sox are having so much fun now, invested in the game, invested in each other. You can hear it in Ortiz's voice, and in the words of others, in the actions of all of them. In 2013, they love to come to work, and yes, that is very different.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: It was the first time the Angels won a game when down by four-plus runs with two outs in the ninth since Aug. 18, 2000, versus the Yankees. It was also the first such comeback in MLB this season. The last was Sept. 2 of last season, when the Braves came back against the Phillies.
Andrew Miller got hurt, and his foot required X-rays.
• One of the most important players in baseball may be hurt: Yadier Molina has a knee problem -- the same knee for which he had surgery six years ago, Bernie Miklasz writes. Johnny Bench calls him the most dangerous guy on the team, Derrick Goold writes.
• Ortiz needs to occasionally rest his foot, Nick Cafardo writes.
• Other clubs view the Red Sox as a lurking presence in the negotiations for Matt Garza, because of the depth he would provide in their rotation and his history of success in the AL East. But as of now, Boston is not seriously engaged in the Garza discussions and probably won't be unless something changes dramatically -- an injury in their rotation, for example.
And they almost certainly will not pursue Jonathan Papelbon even if he's made available, because of his massive salary -- $13 million this year, next year and in 2015, along with a $13 million vesting option in 2016.
Boston's greater focus is on its bullpen, and the Red Sox will weigh options at third base in the trade market.
• Sources say the Nationals are looking hard for starting pitching depth, and they are among the teams that have shown interest in Garza, writes Adam Kilgore. It would be a really expensive acquisition for Washington.
• A few weeks ago, when the Giants were in Atlanta, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy looked at me in his office and said, "Hey, can you pick the All-Star team for me?"
He was joking, of course. But you wouldn't blame any All-Star Game manager for trying to slide away from the task of choosing 34 players, because it's impossible. There is no perfect team, you cannot possibly please everybody, and inevitably, the bigger story is about who got snubbed than who made the club. But that's the way it goes.
The two biggest surprises for me were that Oakland's Josh Donaldson and Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria are both not on the team.
Look, I know third base is an impossible position in the AL this year because you've got Miguel Cabrera, who is the best hitter on the planet, and Manny Machado, who is arguably the best young player on the planet. But I thought that either Donaldson or Longoria would be added, given their production.
Donaldson has a .317 batting average and .533 slugging percentage and is the best player on one of the best teams in the AL West. Longoria ranks fourth in WAR, and is hitting .292.
• Ben Zobrist was shocked that he was selected.
• With the voting, Cabrera gets his due.
• Suspensions are not likely to occur before the All-Star break in the Biogenesis case, writes Tom Haudricourt, who reports that Ryan Braun likely already has been interviewed.
There is no blueprint, no precedent for a case like this: Major League Baseball is investigating the actions of more than a dozen players, and each case is different, with different evidence, different corroborating information, different circumstances. I don't know exactly what they have and when they'll be ready to move, but I'd be shocked if this doesn't drag into the offseason -- and there is a strong argument to be made for MLB to wait until after all of the appeals are completed before announcing the suspensions.
Imagine if Oakland's Bartolo Colon had his appeal expedited and was suspended in early September, and the Rangers' Nelson Cruz was not suspended simply because his case was heard after Colon's? This sort of serendipity could help determine the outcome of pennant races.
• Alex Rodriguez was roundly booed Saturday night.
• As expected, the Marlins dumped Ricky Nolasco, and as expected, the Dodgers got him, without giving up much. The volume of players acquired dresses up the deal nicely for the Marlins, but they didn't get any high-end prospects in return. On the other hand, they are saving a lot of money.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Adam Wainwright basically had a choice -- pitch for the Cardinals, or the National League -- and he chose the Cardinals.
2. Within this Tom Haudricourt notebook, there is word that Norichika Aoki could leave the Brewers after the 2014 season.
3. A Twin sell-off seems imminent. It's worth repeating: If the Twins ever marketed Glen Perkins, he would fetch significant offers from contenders, because of how well he's throwing and because of the depth of his team-friendly contract.
4. John Fay expects a quiet trade deadline for the Reds.
5. Mark Reynolds got a mental day off.
6. Baltimore made a trade.
7. Bob Brookover wonders: What should the Phillies do with Carlos Ruiz?
Dings and dents
1. Derek Jeter didn't have much action in his rehab.
2. David Phelps has a dreaded forearm strain.
3. Ryan Howard is headed to the disabled list.
4. Jed Lowrie has some calf stiffness.
5. The Padres lost catcher Yasmani Grandal.
• The Giants badly needed a win Saturday, and Madison Bumgarner stepped up.
From ESPN Stats and Information, how he won:
A. He missed bats: Bumgarner induced a career-high 23 swings and misses, including 16 on his fastball. Only Matt Harvey (20) has induced more swings and misses with his fastball in a start this season.
B. Bumgarner threw 26 fastballs up in the zone and Dodgers hitters swung at 18 of them, missing on 11 and putting just one in play.
C. Bumgarner fell behind 1-0 to 12 hitters but would come back to strike out a career-high six of them. He went 2-0 to three hitters and would strike out all of them, just the second starter to do that this season (Tim Lincecum is the other).
• Bumgarner rescued the coaching staff from a blunder, Tim Kawakami writes.
1. The Tigers have beaten up on the Indians' pitching the last couple of days.
2. A couple of veterans carried the Cubs.
3. A week ago, the Yankees looked like they were in serious trouble, but since then, they have rattled off a six-game winning streak.
4. The Braves won in a rout.
5. The Astros took down Yu Darvish.
6. The Jays made a bunch of baserunning gaffes.
7. Arizona is on a roll.
• Machado turned 21, with plenty to celebrate.
• Chris Davis hit his 33rd home run and increased his RBI total to 85 Saturday, both of which tied career highs set last season. His 85 RBIs are also one shy of the Orioles' record for most RBIs before the All-Star break, set by Boog Powell in 1969.Most HR before All-Star break
• Some Red Sox players made the All-Star team.
• Matt Moore picked up win No. 12.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Moore shut down the White Sox:
A. Moore threw a career-high 33 changeups, and in a rare occurrence, used it against both righties and lefties. He threw nine changeups to lefties; he had thrown only 15 all season entering Saturday.
B. Six of Moore's changeups came against Adam Dunn, three more than he's thrown to any lefty in a game in his career. He struck out Dunn twice on changeups; he had only four changeup strikeouts to lefties in his career entering Saturday.
C. Five of Moore's six strikeouts overall came via his changeup. He's now recorded back-to-back five-strikeout games with his changeup; he never did that once in 48 prior starts.
• Things are finally starting to fall into place for the Tigers and David Dombrowski, writes Lynn Henning.
• A couple of White Sox players made the All-Star team.
• The Royals got a couple of guys on the All-Star team.
• Everything backfired on the Mariners.
• Drew Storen kept it brief and effective.
• Francisco Liriano has filled A.J. Burnett's shoes.
• The Dodgers had a hidden agenda with the Carlos Marmol trade, writes Bill Shaikin.
• Paul Goldschmidt is no fan of the spotlight.
• It was bad timing for Rex Brothers.
• Adam Jones' mom is not happy with something he did.
• Dustin McGowan is a testament to the human spirit, writes Richard Griffin.
And today will be better than yesterday.