First pitch: Here and now

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First pitch: Here and now

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He is not, all initial appearances to the contrary, the second coming of Joe Morgan or Robbie Alomar.

In fact, there's nothing to suggest he's even an everyday major leaguer.

He's not a "kid'' as some insist on labeling him -- he'll be 27 in September, in fact -- and he's not the future, someone around whom a team can build.

Pedro Ciriaco is the present. He's right now, this week, which, with Dustin Pedroia sidelined, is all the Red Sox really need.

Ciriaco made his presence felt again Friday night as the second half the season began, looking, at least as far as Ciriaco's concerned, very much like the end of the first half.

Ciriaco had three hits, and OK, two of them were bloopers, perfectly placed rather than solidly hit. But another was driven up the middle with the bases loaded and scored two runs, enough to provide the margin of victory in the Red Sox' 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last weekend, making his debut for the Red Sox, Ciriaco introduced himself loudly, collecting seven hits in his first three games. In the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Yankees, Ciriaco carried the Sox to their only win in the four-game set with four hits,
four RBI, two runs scored and one stolen base.

When he followed that with another three-hit night in the final game of the first half, he went into the break on a high, and, to some, the newest cult hero.

"Where's this guy been?'' wondered Red Sox fans.

All over the place, is the answer. Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the Domincan Republic in 2003, he spent seven years in their system before being included in a deal to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010.

He appeared in 31 games with the Pirates in 2010 and 2011, accumulating 13 hits in those games, or three more than he's had with the Red Sox in his first four games.

A minor league free agent last winter, he enjoyed a fabulous spring training, but failed to make the roster as the Red Sox went with veteran utility man Nick Punto as the lone utility man.

He was flown to Kansas City in early May when it appeared that rookie Will Middlebrooks might need time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, but was never activated.

He returned to the Sox last week when Dustin Pedroia finally accepted the inevitable and went on the DL. And he's made people notice.

"I feel pretty good,'' said Ciriaco after his heroics Friday. "We got the win tonight. (On the two-run single), I wasn't trying to do too much, just trying to go up the middle. It'a good feeling and I feel happy to be able to help the team.

"(Getting the opportunity to play more) is huge for me. Every time I get a chance to wear the uniform and be a part of the Red Sox team is huge.''

Ciriaco is humble and hungry, appreciative and accepting. He understands he's not about to become a fixture with the Sox and there's every chance that when Pedroia returns in a week or so, Ciriaco will likely return to Pawtucket, where he'll stay until another injury befalls the Sox, or, failing that, rosters expand on Sept. 1.

But for now, he's enjoying the ride.

Bobby Valentine, who was a big Ciriaco booster in the spring, isn't under any illusions.

Asked Thursday whether Ciriaco's play was a case of a late-bloomer who suddenly had it all figured out, or just a hot streak, Valentine smiled.

"I think it's more of a good stretch, a good opportunity,'' said Valentine evenly, "taking the best of the opportunity. But there are some things he does and does pretty well.''

For now, which is all the Red Sox care about.

Sandoval 'starting from scratch' after career had 'fallen into an abyss'

Sandoval 'starting from scratch' after career had 'fallen into an abyss'

The Pablo Sandoval redemption tour is underway as the former World Series MVP tries to revive his career after two disastrous seasons with the Red Sox organization.

In an interview with ESPN Deportes, he admits to being “complacent” during his first two seasons in Boston after signing a five-year, $95 million deal. 

"My career had fallen into an abyss because I was so complacent with things that I had already accomplished," Sandoval said. "I did not work hard in order to achieve more and to remain at the level of the player that I am and that I can be."

After dealing Travis Shaw to the Brewers, Sandoval is expected to be the Red Sox primary third baseman in 2017.

"I am not taking anything for granted," he said. "I am here to work hard. I'm not thinking about the position or not. I am starting from scratch, and I am here to show what I can do on the field."

The 30-year-old says he’s following a “really strict routine” this offseason, and it shows. In a recent photo, Sandoval appears noticeably thinner. Sandoval says his wife giving birth to “Baby Panda” has served as inspiration.

"Watching 'Baby Panda' grow up and that he gets the opportunity to see his father play in the majors for seven, eight more years, to get back to the success I had, that's my motivation every day," Sandoval said. "The people that I surround myself with now and my family, they are the key to my success. This has been a life lesson."

Tanguay: Could Red Sox ownership be going for it now, then sell the team?

Tanguay: Could Red Sox ownership be going for it now, then sell the team?

Could John Henry sell ownership of the Boston Red Sox anytime soon, or does he want to keep winning?  Shaughnessy, Merloni, and Tanguay debate.