And then there were two

197883.jpg

And then there were two

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

And then there were two.

"Two what?" you don't ask.

Well, first of all, two Idiots back in the A.L. East.

Thats right, in cased you missed it: Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, Bostons former Unfrozen Caveman Centerfielder and Hard-Hitting Hobo Astronaut, have taken whats left of their talents to Tampa.

Damon signed for one-year5.25 million and will play left field. Manny signed for one-year2 million and will serve as designated hitterspiritual advisor. And just like that, two of the most important and polarizing characters in Red Sox history are back in the mix. Theyll presumably face Boston 19 times this season, nine times at Fenway, and, believe it or not, play a somewhat significant role in the Sox season.

And frankly, I cant wait.

One reason is nostalgia.

Can you imagine Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon patrolling the Fenway outfield in Tampa Bay Ray jerseys?

How bizarre it would be to watch, say, Tampa Manny toss a ball into the stands with only two outs in the inning, or Tampa Damon make a shoe-string grab in center, while his left fielder pees inside the Green Monster?

And OK, even if they dont play much outfield together, how about seeing them run the bases together, or do a stupid handshake together, or make fun of Joe Maddons glasses together? Whatever it is, considering the two franchises, the two players, the history and whats still at stake, the fact that Damon and Manny are doing anything with the Rays is cause for at least a little excitement.

And over the course of a long 162-game season, that kind of stuff is great. Whats better than another reason to get up for a random Tuesday night game in July?

But nostalgias not the only reason to be excited about these guys signing with Tampa.

The other is this:

The offseason is almost over, and these two guys are pretty much the only players who have signed with Tampa.

Since the end of last season, the Rays have lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett. Theyve lost Rafael Soriano (closer), Dan Wheeler (set up man) and Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit (two fancy-named but quality middle relievers). Rico Brogna and Rolando Arrojo arent playing anymore, but if they were, I swear the Rays would have found a way to let them go.

And for the Sox, thats a pretty big deal, because make no mistake, the Rays had become a very serious and worthy rival.

Over the last three seasons, the Rays have won two A.L. East titles, which is as many as the Sox have won in the last 15 years. Over the last three seasons, the Rays have won 277 games, the Red Sox have one 279 games. They met once in the playoffs, and the Rays came out on top. Only one of the two has made the World Series, and it wasnt Boston.

Since the moment the Sox last won the title theyve been in a constant and legitimate three-way battle for the division crown, and over that time theyve struggled with it. With a system like they have in baseball, where you have only two chances to make the playoffs, the addition of an extra perennial contender makes a huge difference. The Sox learned this the hard way.

But not as hard as its about to be for the Rays.

Theyve lost all that talent, and still, all they have to show for it are a quickly aging Johnny Damon and the ghost of the shadow of Manny Ramirez. Oh, and Kyle Farnsworth.

And in the A.L. East, in 2011, that wont cut it.

So basically, it comes down to this: While the signings of Damon and Ramirez may have laid the foundation for a new chapter of the Red SoxRays rivalry, you might as well take that same block of cement and carve out the D.O.D for Tampas run among the A.L.s elite.

Are they still a solid team? Sure. Theyve got David Price, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton and Ben Zobrist. And if Damon can stay healthy and Manny can stay focused (long shot hes playing in front of empty seats every night), then the Rays will still be competitive. But when you look at what they lost, and how theyve filled those holes, and how the Yankees and especially the Sox have improved over that same time. Its obvious that the Rays are no longer in that league. By no fault of their own, they just couldnt keep up. Now theyre more Blue Jays than BoSox.

And the timing couldnt be better for Boston.

Not only have the Red Sox re-emerged as the best team money can buy, but theyve also lost one of their two biggest competitors.

Its like if McDonalds unveiled McCrack, their most delicious and addicting burger of all time, and then a week later Wendys went vegetarian. They became the best and half of the rest disappeared.

And while the signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were more the nails in the coffin than the main reason for the collapse, we can say that despite all the story lines and drama this new Rays team may bring theres now one less contender in the AL East race.

Tampa's toast . . .

And then there were two.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Drellich: Sale may be Red Sox' most electrifying pitcher since Pedro

Drellich: Sale may be Red Sox' most electrifying pitcher since Pedro

The newest lefty ace can succeed where David Price did not.

Chris Sale might be the most electrifying pitcher the Red Sox have had since Pedro Martinez.

Josh Beckett had his moments. Jon Lester was steadily excellent.

But the stuff Sale brings is a step above.

A spaghetti-limbed motion and a fast pace. The ability to throw any pitch in any count, something said of many pitchers, but noted here without exaggeration. A delivery that disguises each pitch as another until there’s no time to react.

MORE ON CHRIS SALE

There's been a lot of talk about how competitive Sale is. That's great.

Let's acknowledge how filthy he is before going crazy about the intangibles. He carves hitters better than he does jerseys.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made some questionable moves, but he deserves some optimism here. Some early praise, even -- no matter how well Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, the best prospects he gave the White Sox for Sale, are faring this spring.

Where Dombrowski failed with Price thus far, he may succeed immediately with Sale.

Yes, Sale's 10-strikeout performance against the Yankees on Tuesday night was just a spring training game. But he was dominant to the point that a Grapefruit League game was actually made interesting.

Must-watch, even.

“You guys saw,” Sale told reporters in Florida. “Just felt good.”

All three pitches were working for Sale, the fastball, slider and changeup, and the variants thereof.

“I've been working on my changeup a little bit more the last couple of outings,” Sale said. “My last time out it wasn't great, but just working on it in between starts, just throwing it on the flat ground, it's a pitch that doesn't take a whole lot of stress on your arm. So even when you're just playing catch, you can flip it around, work on grips, things like that.

"As far as my slider, I feel good about it. . . . Obviously when I'm throwing harder, I think it's a little bit flatter. When I take some off of it, not only do I have a little bit more control, but I think it has a little bit more depth. Plus, it kind of creates another pitch in there. It's like an in-between fastball-changeup type of thing. Anything to give them a different look or try to throw them off. That’s kind of the name of pitching."

American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez was miles in front of the 2-and-2 changeup he swung over in the first inning. Matt Holliday was frozen by a slider at the belt on the inner half.

Chris Carter, he of 40-home run power, was beat by a 2-and-2 fastball an inning later, clearly thinking off speed and unable to decipher just what was coming in time.

Aaron Hicks tried to golf an 0-and-2 slider by flinging his bat into the stands, somewhere behind the third-base dugout.

That’s just the first two innings.

"He added his third pitch more this evening than five days ago, when it was more fastball-changeup," manager John Farrell said. "He had his breaking ball to both sides of the plate, and got underneath to some right-handed swings. And any time he needs to, he's got such good feel for the changeup to get him back in counts to give him a different look. He was impressive."

Opening Day at Fenway Park will be exciting. But Game No. 2, when Sale is to make his Sox debut, should bring the most intrigue.

Chris Sale dominant again in Red Sox' win vs. Yankees

Chris Sale dominant again in Red Sox' win vs. Yankees

By Pat Bradley, CSN Staff

Chris Sale was treating this like a regular season game, and delivered an excellent, midseason performance.

The Boston Red Sox got a taste Tuesday of the star pitcher they acquired last offseason, when Sale dominated the New York Yankees in a 4-2 spring training road win in Tampa, Florida.

Sale, who entered the game having thrown 63 of his 68 spring pitches for strikes (92%), continued to show off his incredible command, throwing 58 of his 86 pitches for strikes (67%) in the victory.

The 27-year-old struck out five of the first six Yankees he faced, and finished with an even 10 strikeouts on the night. He’s now struck out 20 batters to just one walk this spring.

"Obviously, anybody who knows anything about sports knows about Boston and New York," Sale said, via The Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. "Coming in here, playing against the Yankees, playing at their park in a night game, it gives it more of a regular-season feel. That's what we're here for. Anytime you can get that much closer to a regular-season game, the better off we're going to be."

His single blemish came on a 2-2 pitch to Yankees designated hitter and noted masher Matt Holliday, who sent the ball sailing to the opposite field for a two-run home run that at the time tied the score at 2.

Sale quickly regrouped, lining out Chris Carter to left field on his very next pitch to end his outing. His final line: two runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts and a hit batsman in six innings on 86 pitches.

That’s quite a debut to the rivalry, and something the Red Sox are well aware could become a regular thing.

“I don't want to say tonight is the norm,” began Red Sox manager John Farrell, via The Providence Journal, “but certainly he is very capable of doing that every time he walks to the mound.”

Sale wasn’t the only one strutting his stuff on Tuesday, though. Youngsters Marco Hernandez and Sam Travis continued to hit and were pivotal parts of a Red Sox offense that pounded out 13 hits.

After Mike Miller opened the scoring with a solo homer for Boston in the third inning, Travis kept things rolling a few batters later when his base hit scored Hernandez.

Travis was back at it again in the seventh inning, when his groundout scored Heiker Meneses for what proved to be the game-winning run.

Hernandez and Travis each finished 2-for-4, with Hernandez tripling (his fifth of the spring) and scoring a run and Travis driving in two runs of his own. They raised their spring averages to .422 and .351, respectively.

Every member of the starting lineup -- which did not feature regulars Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval or Xander Bogaerts -- recorded at least one hit, save for Jackie Bradley Jr., who went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts out of the cleanup spot.

Boston is back in action Thursday with a 1:05 p.m. start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.