First Pitch: Tuesday, August 30

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First Pitch: Tuesday, August 30

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Welcome to First Pitch, a quick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at least the corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapup of Monday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's And That Happened (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

SHOWDOWN . . . SORT OF: Terry Francona says he wants to win the division title. (Providence Journal) Adrian Gonzalez, on the other hand, merely wants to make sure they make the playoffs (Boston Herald), though you can see why he'd feel that way after all those years in San Diego. Whatever, the Red Sox are rested (csnne.com) and ready for three games against the Yankees at Fenway Park, beginning tonight.

The edge isn't quite as sharp as it might be, since the Sox and Yanks have far and away the two best records in the American League (csnne.com) and, barring a catastrophic collapse, will both be in the postseason one way or the other. Still, it's Red Sox and Yankees with first place on the line in the final quarter of the season. As the man once said, getcha popcorn ready. (nbcsports)

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING REALLY IMPORTANT: On her Twitter account, NESN's Heidi Watney says Clay Buchholz told her he's been cleared to begin throwing on Tuesday.

SPEAKING OF GONZO (OR, AS TITO CALLS HIM, 'GONZI') . . . he's the A.L. Player of the Week. (csnne.com)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TED: If Ted Williams were alive, he'd be turning 93 today. Bill Chuck of csnne.com's Nation STATion -- who shares his birthday with the Splendid Splinter -- gives us nine things to know about No. 9.

SOLID SECOND: The Red Sox come in at No. 2, behind the Phillies, in the Power Rankings of both ESPN and Hardball Talk.

FACTS, SCHMACTS: After giving a ton of evidence that shows what happens in the regular season between two teams means nothing in the playoffs, the New York Post's Joel Sherman shifts gears and says it's imperative for the Yankees -- who've lost 10 of their first 12 meetings with the Sox this year -- to start beating Boston.

HALF A LOAF: If they're going to start tonight, they'll have to do it without Alex Rodriguez, who's visiting a hand specialist about his left thumb injury. (New York Daily News) But it looks like they'll have Derek Jeter (New York Post), who originally seemed questionable for the series.

HAPPY PLACE: The Yanks come to Fenway in a good frame of mind, having beaten the Orioles in Baltimore Monday night (New York Daily News) and gotten word that the starting time of that unwanted Sept. 8 makeup game has been switched to 1:05 p.m. (New York Daily News)

YOUR ACTIONS BELIE YOUR WORDS: Danny Knobler of cbssportsline.com wants to know why, if this series is so important, the Yankees are starting Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett in two of the games. Actually he thinks he knows why: So they can "figure out which of their shaky starting pitchers they can possibly hope to rely on in October".

MAKE THAT FOUR THINGS: Bleacher Report lists five things that need to change for the Yankees to beat the Red Sox in October. Unfortunately for the Yanks, the No. 1 thing on the list is already impossible, because . . .

GIVING UP THE GHOST: It looks like they won't have Pedro Feliciano or Damaso Marte back this season. (mlb.com)

AROUND THE A.L. EAST: The Rays, so excited about pulling within 6 12 games of the Yankees in the wild-card race just a day ago, lost a game in the standings as they fell to the Jays, 7-3 (Tampa Tribune). And now they get to step into the Texas furnace. (Tampa Tribune). Good luck.

OLD FRIENDS: Adrian Beltre went 1-for-4 in a rehab start at Triple-A Round Rock (ESPN Dallas) and should be back with the Rangers on Thursday.

WHAT'S NEXT? LOCUSTS? As if things aren't bad enough for the Mets, packs of stray dogs from nearby auto-body shops are roaming the outskirts of CitiField (New York Post), "menacing visitors as they exit the ballpark".

AND FINALLY . . . Please support the annual WEEINESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, which runs today and tomorrow.

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.