Haggerty: Ellsbury putting it all together now


Haggerty: Ellsbury putting it all together now

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON -- Jacoby Ellsbury is getting pretty good at this clutch-hitting thing.

Hes always had the explosive athletic ability that allowed him to score all the way from second base on a passed ball, or sporadically turn on a fastball to right field when things fell into place. Hes shown the ability to get hot at the plate like he did during the months of September and October in 2007 when it mattered most to his team, and hes developed into a much better defensive center-fielder as hes learned hitters, tendencies, and reading the ball off the bat in baseball situations.

In other worse Ellsbury has enjoyed the natural learning curve of playing in the Major Leagues, but things have changed for the much better this season.

The outfielder had shown flashes and steadily improved on star-studded World Series-worthy baseball teams in Boston, but it had never all come together for Ellsbury in a single season. The questions cropped up last season whether Ellsbury would ever put the puzzle pieces together when he was limited to 18 games played with oft-discussed fractured ribs.

This season its coming together in a big, big way.

Ellsbury has pieced together every disparate part of his varied baseball skill set at the same time and even better hes added the needed element of performing in the clutch. In essence hes helped carry the Sox in the dog days of summer as they attempt to protect a narrow AL East lead over a New York Yankees club that keeps on winning.

Thats something his teammates are taking note of.

Hes always been a superstar to me, man. Hes got all of these things that he can do really well and hes finally really learned how to play the game, said David Ortiz. Hes worked really hard at it and now hes playing like a superstar. I feel like its dj vu every time he comes up in the ninth inning now, and Im doing the same thing in the dugout every time it happens.

Ellsbury is hitting .317 for the season and has topped 30 stolen bases, but his biggest area of improvement is a power surge thats seen him smack 18 home runs this season.

The 18th and latest big blast was a solo home run off Cleveland righty Joe Smith in the bottom of the ninth that led the Sox to a 4-3 walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth inning the second consecutive game thats seen Ellsbury collect the walk-off hit for Boston in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Hes the first Sox player to provide walk-off hits in consecutive days since former third baseman Butch Hobson did it in 1978, and the first Sox player to do it in consecutive games since David Ortiz in 2006. Hes also made some believers in the Cleveland clubhouse including the pitcher he touched off for the long blast into the centerfield bleachers on Wednesday night.

"He's gotten us the last two nights -- good for him," said Smith, who had held lefties to a .091 batting average before serving up Ellsburys home run. "It happens, it's baseball. I'll come back tomorrow and face him again and keep going after him again."

Ellsbury had 20 career home runs heading into this seasons power surge, and as such hes still getting used to celebrating the walk-off thing with the right amount of giddy enthusiasm and level-headed cool.

I didnt know what to do with myself when I was running around the bases, said Ellsbury, who was 0-for-4 at the plate in each of the last two games when he stepped up to hit in the bottom of the ninth and finished with the walk-off winner. I was excited. I had never experienced that in the big leagues and it was fun.

"I realized it was the ninth inning and I had been 0-for-4 both games. I'm just trying to get on base. The last two days have been pretty good."

Its been well-chronicled just how unique the sleek leadoff man is in Red Sox history, and thats bearing out with some of his accomplishments. Hes fourth in the league with 31 stolen bases, and his 18 home runs rank as the highest homer total for any player in Sox history with 30 or more stolen bases an impressive blend of power and athleticism that should give him a legit shot at becoming Bostons first 3030 player in club history.

The honors are just beginning for Ellsbury, who is quickly and quietly wrapping up Comeback Player of the Year for the American League while putting together a convincing resume for the MVP as well.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona


McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.