First Pitch: Monday, September 26

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First Pitch: Monday, September 26

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome toFirst 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 Sunday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

ALIVE! The Red Sox have always held the lead in the wild-card race this month, you know. It's just that, after 18 losses in their first 23 September games, it didn't feel that way.

But after this (csnne.com), that lead finally was in jeopardy. A loss in Game 2 would have dropped the Sox into a tie with the Rays . . . and who knows what happens after that?

Instead, the Red Sox -- thanks to this guy (csnne.com) -- came up with their biggest win of the year, a 7-4, 14-inning takedown of the Yankees (csnne.com), that keeps their destiny in their hands as they head into Baltimore for the final three games of the season. If they win three over the Orioles, they're in, no matter what the Rays do at home against the Yankees.

And now that they've found that not only does their season still have a pulse but that they still have heart (Boston Herald), let's see what happens at Camden Yards.

BUT FIRST . . . I'm sure we'll spend all day dealing with this. (csnne.com) Hey, at least it explains this. (csnne.com)

A CLUB ALL HIS OWN: Hard to believe no one's done it before, but it's true: Jacoby Ellsbury is the first 3030 player in Red Sox history. (csnne.com)

WELL, WHADDYA KNOW? J.D. Drew and Jed Lowrie were two of the Red Sox' nightcap heroes. (ESPN Boston)

PUT THE BOOT DOWN: Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News says the Yankees may regret not finishing off the Red Sox when they had the chance.

LET'S FOCUS ON THE 'SHINE' PART: Jonathan Papelbon says the Red Sox have to "grind and shine" (csnne.com) from here on in . . . and he wouldn't have it any other way.

'EVERYBODY IN HERE BELIEVES': Evan Longoria assures us the Rays are going to grind and shine, too, over the last three days. (Tampa Tribune)

FALLEN ANGELS: Los Angeles of Anaheim slipped a little further behind in the wild-card race with a heartbreaking defeat. (baseballmusings.com)

AND FINALLY . . . The Yankees really did beat the Red Sox last offseason (New York Daily News) . . . even if Brian Cashman didn't think so.

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

BOSTON -- At first, 2016 seemed like the “Year of Xander.” It turned out to be the “Year of Mookie,” with Bogaerts dropping off a little as the season progressed.

The Red Sox shortstop saw his average peak at .359 on June 12. At that point he’d played in 61 games, hit eight home runs, 20 doubles and knocked in 44 runs. Although Mookie Betts had six more home runs and three more RBI in that same span, Bogaerts had six more doubles and was hitting 69 points higher.

The two were already locks for the All-Star Game and Bogaerts still had the edge in early MVP talk.

Then things took a turn after the very day Bogaerts saw his average peak.

Over the next 61 games, Bogaerts still managed seven homers, but only had six doubles and 27 RBI, watching his average drop to .307 by the end of that stretch. At first glance, .307 doesn’t seem like an issue, but he dropped 52 points after hitting .253 in that span.

And in his remaining 35 games, Bogaerts only hit .248 -- although he did have six homers.

But throughout it all, Bogaerts never seemed fazed by it. With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, Bogaerts still isn’t worried about the peaks and valleys.

“You go through it as a player, the only one’s who don’t go through that are the ones not playing,” Bogaerts told CSNNE.com before the Boston baseball writers' dinner Thursday. “I just gotta know you’re going to be playing good for sometime, you’re going to be playing bad for sometime.

“Just try to a lot more better times than bad times. It’s just a matter of trusting yourself, trusting your abilities and never doubting yourself. Obviously, you get a lot of doubts when you’re playing bad, but you just be even keeled with whatever situation is presented.”

Bogaerts level head is something often noted by coaches and his teammates, carrying through the days he finds himself lunging left and right for pitches. That’s also carried him through the offseason while maintaining the same preparation from past seasons -- along with putting on some weight.

“I don’t know how much I put on, but I feel strong,” Bogaerts said to CSNNE.com “I mean, I look strong in the mirror.

“Hopefully, I’m in a good position when the season comes because I know I’ll lose [the weight].”

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

BOSTON - The weight room, as much as Instagram, has been Pablo Sandoval’s home in the offseason leading up to the 2017 season.

His change in diet and routine have clearly led to visible results, at least in terms of appearance. His play is yet to be determined. But his manager and teammates have taken notice.

“Compliments to Pablo,” John Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner. “He’s done a great job with the work that he’s put in, the commitment he’s made. He’s reshaped himself, that’s apparent. He knows there’s work to be done to regain an everyday job at third base. So, we’ll see how that unfolds. We’re not looking for him to be someone he’s not been in the past. Return to that level of performance.”

Farrell noted that Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge are the other two players in contention for time at third base and while others, such as prospect Rafael Devers, may get time there in the spring, those are the only three expected to compete for the job.

“The beauty of last spring is that there’s a note of competition in camp,” Farrell said. “And that was born out of third base last year [when Travis Shaw beat out Sandoval at the third base]. That won’t change.”

Sandoval's 2016 season ended after shoulder surgery in April. 

While the manager has to be cautiously optimistic, Sandoval’s teammates can afford to get their hopes up.

“Pablo is definitely going to bounce back,” Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com “Especially with the weight he’s lost and the motivation he has to prove a lot of people wrong, to prove the fans wrong.

“He’s been a great player for his whole career. He’s not a bad player based on one year. Playing in Boston the first year is tough, so, hopefully this year he’ll be better.”

Prior to Sandoval’s abysmal 2015, his first season in Boston, when he hit .245 with 47 RBI in 126 games, the 2012 World Series MVP was a career .294 hitter who averaged 15 home runs and 66 RBI a year.

If Bogaerts is right and Sandoval can be that player again, that will be a huge lift in filling in the gap David Ortiz left in Boston’s offense.