First Pitch: Monday, August 29

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First Pitch: Monday, August 29

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 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)

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
 
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”