First Pitch: Wednesday, September 28

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First Pitch: Wednesday, September 28

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 Tuesday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

ONE MAN'S HEAVEN IS ANOTHER MAN'S HELL: Sure glad someone's enjoying this. (cbssports.com)

Last night ended just as it began, with the Red Sox and Rays tied for the wild-card lead. But it took 3 12 hours of drama and torture (espn.com) that -- if the Sox weren't staring down the barrel of historical infamy -- would probably enthrall us just as much as it does the rest of the baseball world. (Well, maybe some -- like John Tomase of the Boston Herald -- can appreciate it.) But for many, like me, it's sort of an acid flashback (Boston Globe) that I'd just as soon do without, thanks.

Anyway, the Sox beat the Orioles (csnne.com), 8-7, thanks in large part to Ryan Lavarnway (csnne.com) and Alfredo Aceves (csnne.com). (And if you had them in the "late season Red Sox heroes" pool, go buy a bunch of lottery tickets because your luck is, as they say in Twitter-verse, trending.) It kept them tied with Tampa Bay, which choked off a bases-loaded, no-out Yankee rally by turning a fifth-inning triple play (cbssports.com) to keep New York's lead at 3-2, then benefitted from Matt Joyce obeying his father's orders (St. Petersburg Times) in pulling out a 5-3 win. (Tampa Tribune) And, to quote the headline on the St. Petersburg Times' Gary Shelton's column, Tampa Bay's season of wonder goes down to the wire.

So does the Red Sox' season of . . . hmm. What? Something less than wonder, that's for sure.

SO NOW WHAT? Since the Yankees truly don't give a damn, (New York Daily News) it's safe to assume David Price and the Rays will beat whatever group of minor-league meatball artists the all-we-care-about-is-the-playoffs Yankees send to the mound tonight. That leaves it up to Jon Lester, pitching on three days' rest, and the Red Sox to force a Thursday play-in game at Tropicana Field. The starting times are out for both that game and the first game of the ALDS. (csnne.com)

Question is, will the Red Sox be involved in either?

WHAT'S THE POINT? Sean McAdam thinks it might not make a difference (csnne.com), because even if they win they'll have used up so much of their dependable pitching to get there that they'll be easy pickings for whoever the play in the ALDS.

HERE'S THE POINT: Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald says the Sox need to win and get to the postseason to erase the stench of the last month.

AND TO GET TO THE POINT . . . the desperate-for-pitching Sox may even turn to Clay Buchholz tonight. (csnne.com)
YOU COULD KNOCK ME OVER WITH A SLEDGEHAMMER: He loves Terry Francona and, based on his unhappy parting with the Red Sox, we can assume he's not Theo Epstein's biggest fan. So I can't say I'm shocked to see how Curt Schilling divvies up the blame for all this. (csnne.com)
SELF-PRESERVATION: Joe Biden's a member of Red Sox Nation these days, but his motives are strictly selfish. (boston.com)

LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE: When you've done your job and clinched your playoff berth when you should have, as the Yankees did, these are the kind of things you worry about at season's end. (cutoffman.mlbblogs.com)

MISERY LOVES COMPANY: It took them an extra day, but the Braves have also squandered their huge wild-card lead. They were clobbered by the Phillies last night (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and the Cardinals beat the Astros (St. Louis Post Dispatch), meaning Atlanta and St. Louis -- like Boston and Tampa Bay -- are tied going into the regular season's final day.

ADIOS, OZZIE: "He came in loud, brash and cocky before the 2004 season. It was only fitting that Ozzie Guillen went out the same way." So writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times on the news that Ozzie Guillen is leaving the White Sox to (probably) manage the Marlins. As my friend Bill Reynolds would say: Ozzie, they didn't make two of you.

AND FINALLY . . . Bill James turns movie critic and gives a thumb's up to 'Moneyball'. (ljworld.com)

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''