First Pitch: Wednesday, August 31

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First Pitch: Wednesday, August 31

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome to First Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Tuesday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThat Happened (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

VILLAIN BORN, RIVALRY RENEWED: So as it turns out, all it took to light a spark under the somnolent Red Sox-Yankee tong war was some exuberant handclapping.

That was how Francisco Cervelli celebrated upon completing his rounding of the bases after a fifth-inning moonshot over the Monster Seats. John Lackey took exception to it, and off we went. Lackey drilled Cervelli in the back with the first pitch of Cervelli's next at-bat, words were exchanged, benches were cleared, and, says John Tomase of the Boston Herald, it brought back memories of the old days. It wasn't quite Fisk-Munson, Nettles-Lee, Varitek-Rodriguez or Zimmer-Martinez (or, if you really want to go back, Martin-Piersall or Cronin-Powell), but it was more emotion than we've seen from these two teams in a while.

CC Sabathia was a little upset (ESPN New York), Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild (who has his own history of beanball battles with the Red Sox) was ejected, and all in all it was pretty entertaining. Much more entertaining than the four-hour bore-a-thon of a game, which ended with the Red Sox -- who, as Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe notes incredulously, managed to parlay 13 hits, 4 walks and 2 hit batsmen into two whole runs -- stranding 16 runners and losing, 5-2 (csnne.com), cutting their A.L. East lead over New York to one-half game.

It's hard to get worked up over the series -- though Joe Girardi seems to think it's important (cbssports.com) -- for a number of reasons. First, both teams are all but guaranteed to make the postseason. Second, both the pitching matchups for the next two nights and the schedule the rest of the way favor the Red Sox, so one loss to New York isn't going to send the region into a pre-2004 tizzy. But baseball's always more fun when there's a little edge to Red Sox-Yankees, and now we seem to have it back.

For a night, anyway.

KING ME: Baseball, tiddlywinks, checkers . . . no matter the competition, Larry Lucchino wants to beat the Yankees. (mlb.com)

I YAM WHAT I YAM: Cervelli, who swore up and down he wasn't trying to show anybody up, had a simple explanation for his outburst: "That's Cervelli." (weei.com)

DOESN'T MEAN I HAVE TO LIKE IT: And Lackey, who swore up and down he didn't hit Cervelli on purpose, said he thought the handclaps were "a little excessive, honestly". (csnne.com)

MR. BIG: He'd gone 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox in his first four appearances against them this year, so anything would seem good by comparison. Thus, Sabathia's six-inning, 128-pitch grind was described by Mike Lupica of the Daily News as "tremendous, even though all his numbers weren't". ESPN's David Schoenfield doesn't think that 0-4, 7.20 means much of anything (too small a sample size) and wasn't willing to go as far as Lupica, but agrees that good pitchers know how to get outs when they need them "and Sabathia got them on this night".

WAKE UP: Peter Abraham swims against the tide of Red Sox Nation by disagreeing with the notion that Tim Wakefield should be lifted from the rotation. (Boston Globe) The Sox may have taken the first step in that direction, though, when they skipped over his start this weekend against Texas.

COMEBACK KIDS: J.D. Drew went 3-for-3 and Kevin Youkilis went 1-for-4 in a rehab game with the PawSox in Rochester (Providence Journal), and both should return to the Red Sox' lineup by the end of the week.

COMEBACK KID: Clay Buchholz, meanwhile, started his long road to recovery with 25 throws from 60 feet. (csnne.com) In other words, don't expect to see him for a while . . . if at all this season.

AROUND THE A.L. EAST: Looks like Andy MacPhail, who was hired in 2007 to turn around the Orioles, is about to admit defeat and walk away. (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com) His departure, along with the Cubs' opening, could start an interesting game of GM musical chairs this offseason . . . Joe Maddon says the Rays have to "will" themselves to win when the opposing pitcher is on his game, but the will wasn't strong enough in a 2-0 loss to the Rangers (St. Petersburg Times) . . . Somebody claimed B.J. Upton on waivers last week (Tampa Tribune), but Maddon says it was a "procedural" thing and Tampa Bay had no intention of trading him.

TOUGH CHOICE: Today is the deadline for teams to add players to their roster and have them eligible for the postseason. The Rangers -- a potential playoff opponent for the Red Sox -- admit they have interest in the Cardinals' Lance Berkman (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), who would make an already formidable lineup even tougher. But if the Cards hope to trade Berkman and then bring him back as a free agent over the winter, Berkman says forget it; once he's gone, he's gone. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) And that may make the Cards, who'd like to retain him, less willing to make the deal.

BEATING THE HEAT: Red Sox nemesis C.J. Wilson has found a way to stay cool in the kiln-like Texas atmosphere. (ESPN Dallas)

OLD FRIENDS: It was a tough night for Bronson Arroyo (Rotoworld) . . . Hanley Ramirez' comeback is on hold after he felt discomfort in his left shoulder during a rehab game. (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

THINK THEY WOULDN'T NOTICE? If you're making 80,000 a year, like this former Giants' employee, you probably don't want to embezzle 1,513,836.28 from the club because it might raise a red flag when you try to get a loan from a bank to buy a house. (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

AND FINALLY . . . In true, "Why in my day" fashion, 80-year-old Moose Skowron proposes an old-fashioned solution to a new-fangled problem. (Chicago Tribune)

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.