Band of brothers: Garciaparra and Conigliaro

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Band of brothers: Garciaparra and Conigliaro

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

We rarely mention them in the same breath, and why would we? One was home-grown Massachusetts, the other a transplanted Californian. One was an outfielder in the 1960s and '70s, the other a shortstop in the 1990s and 2000s. One sprinted toward the bright lights, the other sprinted away. Most of us see almost no connection between Nomar Garciaparra and Tony Conigliaro, other than their shared Red Sox legacy and their lost opportunity at immortality.

We should look closer.

The careers of Garciaparra and Conigliaro run on almost parallel tracks with a similarity that's eerie. Ignore the differences in their hitting styles -- Nomar was a line-drive machine in his prime, Tony C. a launcher of fly balls. Ignore the raw statistics, most of which are contextual; put Garciaparra in the dead-ball '60s or Conigliaro in the hitter-happy '90s and their stats would even out.

Instead, follow the broad strokes. You're talking about two guys who almost seem separated at birth, albeit decades apart:

Both broke in with bad teams -- the '64 Sox went 72-90; the '97 crew was the last Red Sox team to finish under .500 -- and became matinee idols, taking the fans' attention away from the carnage on the field.

Both blazed through their first four seasons: Tony C. won the home-run crown at age 20 in 1965, the youngest player ever to lead a league in homers, and Nomar won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000 with averages of .357 and .372.

Both shared the stage -- and in Conigliaro's case, jostled for attention -- with future Hall of Famers: Carl Yastrzemski (who's already there) and Pedro Martinez (who will be).

Both suffered career-altering injuries when they were hit by pitches, injuries that would prove to be the death of their (up to that point, legitimate) Hall of Fame arguments.

Both were sidelined for all (Conigliaro, 1968) or most (Garciparra, 2001) of their fifth seasons.

Both returned for two more full years with the Red Sox, and while they enjoyed success -- Tony C. hit 36 homers, fourth-best in the A.L., in 1970; Nomar batted over .300 twice and drove in 100 or more runs both times -- their post-injury talents were pitched at a lower level.

Both were traded in their eighth seasons: Conigliaro before it began, Garciaparra in the middle. Both deals were prompted by Sox worries about the deterioration of their skills -- the club knew Tony C.'s eyesight had never fully recovered from the beaning, and Nomar's defensive abilities had shattered -- but both had off-the-field elements attached, too. In Conigliaro's case, the Sox were trying to break up a clubhouse that had, in the words of author David Caetano, "congealed into tribes." As for the tightly-wound Garciaparra, he had become the skunk at the Cowboy UpIdiots garden party.

While the analogy seems to break down here -- Tony C. retired midway through a miserable 1971 with the Angels, while Nomar became Nomad as he bounced around the bigs for his final five years -- both came back to Boston to finish things off: Conigliaro in a futile attempt to return as a player in 1975, Garciaparra to say he retired as a member of the Red Sox.

And, finally, both left baseball for careers in television.

Told you it was eerie. And there's more. Both dated actresses as young men. Both had brothers who played professional baseball. The list goes on. And on.

And what makes it even eerier is how different they were as people. (Or, to put it another way: Contrast and compare Nomar's eventual partner, America's sweetheart Mia Hamm, with the woman Tony C. is most remembered for, Hollywood sexpot Mamie Van Doren.) You'd never see Conigliaro pushing the Red Sox to lay red tape around the clubhouse as a buffer between the players and the media. Nor would you ever find Garciaparra on stage belting out "Little Red Scooter."

It was if the Gods created these baseball twins and then messed up by placing each of them in an era that was made for the other.

Tony C. reveled in the spotlight; he would have thrived in these athlete-as-celebrity times. The 247365 news cycle was made for a 247365 star. Nomar, on the other hand, ached for the sort of shadows that existed back when the focus was almost solely on what happened between the lines. When television was only around for 50 or 60 games a year. When sports-talk radio was a contradiction in terms. When Webs were just parts of fielding gloves and only birds tweeted. When reporters and athletes a) liked and b) protected each other.

It all came to mind on Wednesday when a smiling Garciaparra signed a one-day contract in order to retire as a member of the Red Sox.

It was unnecessary; he'll always be remembered as a Sock, same as Conigliaro. But his reconciliation with the organization closed the circle, just as Tony C's unsuccessful attempt to become the Sox' DH in 1975 -- unfortunately for him, the team had just promoted a future Hall of Famer, Jim Rice, who took that very role -- erased some bitter memories of his 1970-71 departure.

Yet another link between two men who, on the surface, weren't linked at all.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Art on Twitter at http:twitter.comcsnne1

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.