By Art Martone
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 Sunday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's And That Happened (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).
BLUE SKIES: Storm? What storm? Things are looking bright in Red Sox Nation, thanks to a pair of wins over the A's (csnne.com) on Saturday in the pre-Irene muck and mire, a two-game lead over the Yankees in the A.L. East, and a couple of days off before starting a three-game Fenway series against the Yanks (csnne.com) in a matchup of the two highest-scoring teams in baseball. (si.com) Those numbers may expand -- at least on the Boston side -- if A.J. Burnett pitches one of the games of the series. (New York Daily News)
Still, the story of the weekend -- even in baseball -- was HurricaneTropical Storm Irene. (cbssports.com) After all, how often do players get a weekend off in August? (cbssports.com)
BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW . . . that Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrook and Patriots rookie QB Ryan Mallett are a) best friends and c) roommates? (Providence Journal)
GOING UP: The Red Sox leapfrogged the Brewers and Yankees and moved to the No. 2 spot in si.com's weekly Power Rankings.
AMERICA'S MOST BELOVED . . . SOMETHING: In an attempt to defend Tropicana Field, home of the Rays, the St. Petersburg Times' Tom Jones lists the five worst stadiums in sports . . . and he has Fenway Park at No. 5. (The Trop, incidentally, isn't on the list.)
WAR OF WORDS: The Yankees split their Sunday doubleheader with the Orioles (New York Daily News), but that wasn't the big news of the day in Y. Universe. The Yanks claim they were left out of the decision-making process when one of Saturday's rainouts was rescheduled for Sept. 8, costing them one of their two remaining off-days this year, and they're hopping mad about it. (New York Post) Buck Showalter -- who hasn't been afraid to talk the talk against the big boys this year (csnne.com), even if his team hasn't exactly walked the walk on the field -- responded quickly, saying New York's complaints had "a feeling of hypocrisy" and that the Yankees' "opinion on what the Baltimore Orioles should do for their fans and for their organization isn't really that relevant to me personally." (masn.com)
UM . . . NEVER MIND: And then it turns out that a miscommunication between Yankee players and a lawyer for the Major League Baseball Players Association may have been the reason the Orioles selected the Sept. 8 make-up date. (New York Post)
DON'T LOOK NOW . . . but the Rays -- fresh off a 14-strikeout performance from David Price in a 12-0 win over the Jays (St. Petersburg Times) -- are only six games behind the Yankees in the wild-card race.
MILESTONES: Derek Jeter has now played more games as a Yankee than anyone in history (mlb.com) . . . The Tigers' Justin Verlander is MLB's first 20-game winner this season. (Detroit News)
GOOD LUCK: Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice-president of operations, agrees that the relationship between players and umpires -- which improved in the wake of the Richie Phillips fiasco -- is deteriorating, and he's determined to fix it. (si.com) Interesting note: He says don't believe the computerized strike zones you see on TV, which frequently show the umpires missing ball-and-strike calls. Writes Mel Antonen: "Torre said the problem with the TV networks is that their strike zonetechnology is set up for one strike zone, to a batter that stands sixfeet tall . . . 'TV is not accurate' said Torre."
OLD FRIENDS: Wil Ledezma -- yes, he belonged to the Red Sox once upon a time -- was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays (bluejays.com) . . . That was one ugly outing for Brad Penny yesterday in what is fast becoming one ugly season (rotoworld.com) . . . Hanley Ramirez says he'll be back in the Marlins' lineup Wednesday against the Mets (Twitter) . . . Nick Hagadone, whom the Sox sent to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade, was quietly recalled by the Indians Friday for his first taste of the big leagues (cleveland.com) and just as quietly sent back to the minors yesterday (Rotoworld) . . . Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens can't figure out Jason Bay (New York Post) . . . Adrian Beltre doesn't think he needs a rehab assignment, but the Rangers insist so he'll go (AP via SI.com).
NEW FRIENDS: Andre Ethier-to-Boston rumors have been circulating forever, so it's interesting when a) he seems to complain about the Dodgers making him play through a knee injury (Los Angeles Times), and then b) backs off those comments (mlb.com).
THE QUIET MAN: Joe Buck's voice problem has been evident to anyone who's watched a Fox game this season, and he explains what's wrong -- thankfully, it's nothing serious -- to the New York Times.
AND FINALLY . . . Looking for an athlete who'll inundate you with Tweets? R.A. Dickey's your man. (The Wall Street Journal)