First Pitch: Youngsters making the difference for Sox

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First Pitch: Youngsters making the difference for Sox

The disabled list, as it has been most of the year, is still chock-full of players, many of them outfielders. The lineup, out of necessity, seems to change every night.

But as the Red Sox continue with what is arguably their best stretch of baseball this season -- five wins in a row, seven in their last eight tries -- the team is being carried by younger players intent on making their presence felt.

Thursday night, when the Sox rallied from two runs down in the eighth inning to grab a 6-5 win over the Miami Marlins and a sweep of the teams' three-game series, that was never more evident.

Will Middlebrooks, who earlier had supplied two run-scoring singles, unloaded a two-run bomb to the center field bleachers for a game-tying homer.

Then, it was left to Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava to combine for the go-ahead run.

With no outs, Kalish reached on a single to right. Bobby Valentine put on a hit-and-run with Mike Aviles at the plate.

On a ground ball to the right side, Kalish reached second easily, but some aggressiveness led him to believe he could take third, too.

"I got a (good) break," Kalish recounted. "I got around second and a lot of it is instincts and I saw them that (reliever Edward Mujica who had fielded the ball) was still in his flip to the first baseman. He took his time with it, so I made a break on it and just tried make something happen."

Kalish needed to commit fully to reach third base. Anything less would have resulted in the potential winning run being cut down at third for the first out of the inning.

"If I had hesitated, I wouldn't have gone," said Kalish, who returned from two surgeries last fall and rejoined the roster Sunday in Chicago. "If I don't that true aggressive feeling of 'no regrets' than I'm not going to try it. But on that play, I felt really confident about this. When the play happens, it's all instincts. Everything else just kind of goes away."

That left it up to Nava. With Kalish representing the go-ahead run at third and no out, the Marlins were forced to bring the infield in, leaving Nava with more room with which to work.

"It changed the whole dynamic of that last at-bat," said Nava, who had four hits Wednesday night and a single in the fourth before coming to the plate in the eighth. "It makes it a lot easier because it makes the field a little bigger. And at the same time, a good hustle play like that gets the fans excited, the momentum going. It's a little thing, but in the scheme of what we were doing that inning, any momentum you get going in our direction was big."

That, in essence, is the charge for the young players on an injury-depleted roster: just to try to make something happen. And more and more, the younger players on the roster are having an impact.

The young guys are intent on contributing in way possible, even if it's just taking an extra base on a groundout, or forcing the action.

"I think it's unsaid," said Nava of the impact the young players are having. "Especially the guys who are part of doing that, like Kalish or myself, you know that's kind of what you have to do to help the team.
It's understood."

They're not watching and learning, as they might if the likes of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury were healthy and part of the starting lineup, as had been expected.

They're playing and contributing, doing what they can to keep the Sox in contention until the regulars return.

And they're succeeding.

"It's awesome," said Kalish of the contributions. "As young guys, it's what you want to do: you want to bring fire, you want to spark people. I think so far, we're doing that."

They don't bring the experience, or, in the case of Kalish, a fully developed game. The outfielder lost almost a full year because of injuries and he was off the team's radar in the spring, not yet ready to begin baseball activities.

As for Nava, he wasn't invited to big league camp and in April, when the team was in need of a spot on the 40-man roster, saw himself designated for assignment, unclaimed.

Now, on a lot of nights, they comprise two-thirds of the Red Sox' starting outfield, intent on making a difference and not merely holding the places of bigger stars with bigger salaries.

"For me, I know every night I can bring my defense and my energy,'' said Kalish, "no matter what. At the plate, you grind it out and you give everything you can. Obviously we want to win. I think the energy can really help, all around."

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

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Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - David Ortiz became one of the most celebrated players in Red Sox history during his storied 14-year run in Boston.

On the night he returned to Fenway to have his No. 34 take its place among the franchise's other legends, his former teammates did their part to make sure it was a memorable one.

Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

Ramirez said he played with Ortiz on his mind.

"He's my mentor, my big brother. He's everything," Ramirez said. "Today when I saw him on the field crying, it made me cry."

He said his home run was in Big Papi's honor.

"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "I was going to do his thing (pointing his hands in the air) but I forgot."

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

"It was vintage Porcello," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "A couple of pitches that cut his night short, but he was crisp throughout."

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Porcello said he isn't sure if he has completely turned a corner yet after his slow start, but he has felt better in his recent starts.

"Today was a step in the right direction," he said.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.