Hottovy's wild ride to the big leagues

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Hottovy's wild ride to the big leagues

By JessicaCamerato
CSNNE.com

Boston Red Sox reliever Tommy Hottovy had pitched in 169 games over eight seasons before making his major-league debut one month shy of his 30th birthday last Friday against the Oakland Athletics. Over the years he had traveled thousands of miles, faced hundreds of batters, and made countless memories in his journey to Fenway Park. He shared some of his favorite moments with CSNNE.com.

Back on Campus: Hottovy played college baseball at Wichita State University and found himself back on campus after being drafted by the Red Sox in 2004. Hottovy lived in the dorms at UMass-Lowell during his first season with the Spinners. But unlike his time in college, he couldnt load up the car for this trip to the minors.

Lowell is great and the people are great, but it almost took me back a couple of years because I went to a big baseball program in college, Hottovy said. In Lowell, youre staying in the dorms, youre walking to the field, you dont have a car. Its almost like summer camp, but it was fun. UMass-Lowell dorms, there were no frills, you dont have anything. You bring two bags with you and thats it. I think they had chests, but we didnt even have any clothes to put in there because they fly you out and say, Youve got to bring a baseball bag and a clothes bag for June, July and August.' I brought one or two pairs of shoes, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts, and as many shirts as I could fit in there. And I did have my laptop.

A Bus Ride of Errors: Portland, Maine is just under 400 miles away from Trenton, New Jersey. So when the Sea Dogs left in the wee hours of the morning, they should have arrived in plenty of time for an evening game. But a blown tire led to a 13-hour bus ride -- and a memorable experience for Hottovy.

Without question, the craziest bus ride was when I got called up to Double-A, he recalled. It was my second start and we were traveling to Trenton from Portland. The game was at 7 p.m. that night. We left at 5 in the morning and got about halfway there and blew a tire on the highway. So were stranded on the side of the highway and Im watching my watch -- its 2 oclock, 3 oclock, 4 oclock - and were still an hour-and-a-half away. We see its getting close and the guys not done with the tires, so we all got our bags from under the bus and get our uniforms. Everybody gets changed on the bus. We pulled in for a 7 oclock start at 6:30. Its my second start in Double-A and Im in uniform, getting off the bus at 6:30, havent stretched, just go out and try to get loose for a few minutes. (Pauses) I gave up eight runs in five innings (laughs). That was for me the craziest, but in the minor leagues, you cant even describe all the bus rides you have to take.
Brush with LeBron . . . Well, Almost: Hottovys travels have taken him to minor league cities all over the country. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Portland, Maine are at the top of his list, along with . . . Akron, Ohio? Its not exactly a coastal hotspot, but Hottovy had fun whenever he played there.

Parts of Akron, Ohio are pretty cool, he said. We would have games in Akron and the owner of the Sea Dogs would put on team dinners there at this sports bar. Everybody had 40 to eat, so we were like, What if we have a burger? Can we have the rest of it to spend on whatever we want? They said yes, so were there and were having a blast. LeBron James was having a party at their VIP room that weekend, and this was a Thursday, and they had to dip into some of the stuff they had saved for him. The owner was laughing about it, like youre drinking LeBrons whatever. It was pretty funny.

Knew Right Away about Clay: In 2007, Clay Buchholz and Hottovy were the first and second starting pitchers in the Portland Sea Dogs rotation. Their seasons would quickly go in different directions, though. Hottovy began struggling with tendonitis and was shut down for three weeks in July. The following month, Buchholz made his big-league debut. Rather than get discouraged, Hottovy used Buchholzs success as motivation to keep striving. On Friday night he made his Red Sox debut pitching in relief of a game Buchholz started.

We were the number one and two starters, Hottovy said. You could tell right away that he was going to be good. I mean, you just know. To me, thats encouraging. Some guys look at it like, I wish I could be there. But when I see a guy I played with play in the big leagues, that gives me hope and faith that Im here, I can do it too. I want to prove that I can.

From Fans to Lifelong Friends: When Hottovy began talking to two fans during a game with the Wilmington (DE) Blue Rocks, he had no idea that conversation would lead to a lifelong friendship.

When I was starting in the minor leagues, we would all sit up in the stands, he recalled. One day I was up in the stands in 2005 or 2006, I was charting and this older lady was sitting next to me with her granddaughter. It was her granddaughters first game she had ever been to. Im talking to her, explaining stuff and showing her how it works. After the game, I ran down and got her a ball and took it up to her. I thought that was the end of it. Well, that lady wrote in to the organization saying how awesome it was that I took the time out to talk to her and her granddaughter. Since then, her and her granddaughter, whos 15 now, theyve seen me pitch probably 20 times. Were really good friends now. They email me all the time, call me all the time. Theyve seen me play quite a bit when we go places like the Reading (PA) Phillies. Its crazy -- its amazing the people you meet through the experiences over the years.

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter athttp:twitter.comjcameratoNBAShe can bereached at jessicacamerato@gmail.com.

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

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Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

NEW YORK -- It had the potential to be the most awkward celebration ever.

In the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, before their game was complete, the Red Sox became American League East champions, by virtue of one other division rival -- Baltimore -- coming back to beat another -- Toronto -- in the ninth inning.

That eliminated the Blue Jays from the division race, and made the Sox division champs.

But that ninth inning reversal of fortune was about to visit the Red Sox, too.

Craig Kimbrel faced four hitters and allowed a single and three straight walks, leading to a run. When, after 28 pitches, he couldn't get an out, he was lifted for Joe Kelly, who recorded one out, then yielded a walk-off grand slam to Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees celebrated wildly on the field, while the Red Sox trudged into the dugout, beset with mixed emotions.

Yes, they had just lost a game that seemed theirs. But they also had accomplished something that had taken 158 games.

What to do?

The Sox decided to drown their temporary sorrows in champagne.

"As soon as we got in here,'' said Jackie Bradley Jr., "we quickly got over it.''

From the top of the eighth until the start of the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox seemed headed in a conventional celebration.

A two-run, bases-loaded double by Mookie Betts and a wild pitch -- the latter enabling David Ortiz to slide into home and dislodge the ball from former teammate Tommy Layne's glove --- had given the Sox a 3-0 lead.

Koji Uehara worked around a walk to post a scoreless walk and after the top of the ninth, the Sox called on Craig Kimbrel, who had successfully closed out all but two save opportunities all season.

But Kimbrel quickly allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner and then began pitching as though he forgot how to throw strikes. Three straight walks resulted in a run in and the bases loaded.

Joe Kelly got an out, but then Teixeira, for the second time this week, produced a game-winning homer in the ninth. On Monday, he had homered in Toronto to turn a Blue Jays win into a loss, and now, here he was again.

It may have been a rather meaningless victory for the Yankees -- who remain barely alive for the wild card -- but it did prevent them the indignity of watching the Red Sox celebrate on their lawn.

Instead, the Sox wore the shame of the walk-off -- at least until they reached their clubhouse, where the partying began in earnest.

It had taken clubhouse attendants less than five minutes to cover the floor and lockers with plastic protective sheets. In a matter of a few more minutes, the air was filled with a mix of beer and bubbly.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wore a goggles and only socks on his feet.

As the spray reached every inch of the clubhouse, David Ortiz exclaimed: "I'm going to drown in this man.''

Defeat? What defeat?

 

McAdam: Seeds of first place Red Sox planted in A.L. East basement

McAdam: Seeds of first place Red Sox planted in A.L. East basement

NEW YORK -- Worst to first.

Again.

Sound familiar?

It should, since the Red Sox are now making this a habit. For the second time in the last four years, the Red Sox have rebounded from a last-place finish -- two, in fact, in this instance -- to claim a division title.

On Wednesday, they won it the hard way -- by losing the game, 5-3, on a walk-off grand slam by the New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira, but clinching first thanks to a loss by the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.

It's as though the Red Sox were determined to win it on a trick bank shot. They had already won the A.L. East more conventionally in 2013, by actually winning their clinching game. But the awkwardness of blowing a three-run lead in the ninth was soon washed away in a spray of champagne and beer in a raucous clubhouse.

"One inning,'' declared John Farrell, "should not take away from the fact that we're champions.''

Indeed, the Red Sox had already paid the price to get to this point with two consecutive finishes in the division basement. They had to wait for their young foundation to mature and evolve.

Mookie Betts went from being a good, promising player to a legitimate MVP candidate. Jackie Bradley Jr. transformed from defensive marvel and streaky hitter to solid, all-around All-Star. Xander Bogaerts continued to improve and finally checked the "power'' box.

"I don't know what expectations we had coming in,'' confessed Bradley. "You just know that as long as you play hard, do the right things, keep together. . . We knew we had a talented team, but you still have to play the game. We were able to play the game at a high level this year.

"I think we knew this could happen in spring training, that we could be a pretty special team.''

By this year, the growing pains were over. The young stars had arrived and were ready to not just flash potential, but this time, do something with it.

"Everything came to fruition,'' noted Bradley, "and we're here.''

Along with the expected developments, there were surprises: Sandy Leon went from fourth-string journeyman to starting catcher, unseating several teammates along the way. Steven Wright went from bullpen long man to All-Star starter. Andrew Benintendi came from nowhere to claim the left field job in the final two months.

Some of this was planned. The rest -- and this is the beauty of sports -- was not.

"We had two rough years," said Farrell. "But at the same time, it was true meaning in the struggles. We're benefitting from that now.,''

The team showed a powerful finishing kick down the stretch, obliterating anything and anyone in its way in the final month, winning 11 straight, including seven in a row on the road -- all against division opponents.

The road-heavy second-half schedule that threatened to derail them instead toughened them and served as a springboard.

Comparisons will be made, of course, to the last two championship teams - 2004 stands alone for obvious reasons. Farrell was the pitching coach for one (2007) and the manager of another (2013).

"This is a more dynamic offense than those other teams,'' said Farrell. "We've got more team speed, we've got more athleticism. I can't say that this is a better team; it's different.''

"Better'' may have to wait until November, and the end of the postseason. It will require a World Series victory to match 2007 and 2013.

Time will tell. But for a night, there was enough to celebrate.

"By no means,'' said Farrell, dripping in champagne, "is this the end. This is just the beginning of our postseason.''