Notes: Ellsbury continues on torrid stretch


Notes: Ellsbury continues on torrid stretch

By Joe Haggerty Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Its hard to believe that it took five seasons for Jacoby Ellsbury to collect his first walk-off hit as a member of the Boston Red Sox, but it seems awfully appropriate that it happened this season.

So much has been magical and blessed for the Sox center-fielder in a campaign thats gone from surprising to All-Star caliber to knocking on the MVP door in the span of five months. Ellsbury penned another chapter on Tuesday night by punching a single up the middle in the bottom of the ninth inning to score pinch-runner Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and lead the Sox to a rousing 3-2 victory at Fenway Park.

It was Ellsburys first walk-off win and the first time he was tackled at first base by his jubilant teammates after the rousing win was secured on a night that included a 1-hour, 35-minute rain delay.

Youre always looking for those opportunities to win a game especially when its late with the rain delay and everything else, said Ellsbury. I was just really happy I was able to square that ball up, and that we were able to get something going there in the ninth inning.

Ellsbury finished 1-for-5 on the evening and is hitting a robust .318 on the season for the Sox, but came alive along with the rest of the offense when it finally mattered against the Cleveland bullpen. The center-fielder has delivered all season long, and teammate Jason Varitek who singled to start the ninth inning rally before giving way to Saltalamacchia says whats been seen in flashes since 2007 has finally arrived in full force.

He was a good player when he first came up," Varitek said. "He was a huge reason we won that World Series in 2007. He was as hot as could be, and he had energy and speed. His swing has really developed. Hes always had backspin and good bat speed and athleticism, and now hes gone through some changes. He can top a ball and he can drive a ball. He can do both.

Ellsbury has enjoyed a series of big hits this season for the Sox with so much offensive damage coming from the leadoff man and No. 2 hitter Dustin Pedroia this season, and everyone involved is hoping the center-fielder will get a couple more walk-off knocks before the year is up.

Hes had a lot of big hits for us, said Francona. Hell have a lot more.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia served as a pinch-runner for Jason Varitek after the Sox captain singled in the bottom of the ninth inning to start Bostons game-winning rally, and believe it or not it wasnt the first pinch-running appearance for the younger Sox catcher. Saltalamacchia pinch-ran in a game for the Rangers on June 20, 2008 in a 14-inning loss to the Washington Nationals.

This stint was a lot more memorable for Saltalamacchia, somehow motoring all the way from second base and beating Ezequiel Carreras throw to home plate on a Jacoby Ellsbury smash up the middle. Saltalamacchia got the wave to score from third base coach Tim Bogar, the affable Sox catcher said it was time to turn on the burners.

The burst of speed combined with a nice slide around home plate away from the tag were both qualities not often seen in catchers stereotyped as base-clogging outs just waiting to happen on the basepaths.

Obviously it starts with Tek getting it all started, Josh Reddick getting one to drop in and then a clutch hit by Ellsbury; I let my speed do the rest, said Saltalamacchia. I was checking out the outfield playing at regular depth, so I knew on a line drive I was probably going to be scoring. Bogie didnt hold me up, and like I said before my speed just took over.

Josh Becketts 1.99 home ERA is the lowest for a Red Sox pitcher at Fenway with at least 9 starts since former Sox ace Pedro Martinezs 1.84 ERA with Boston during his prime in the 2000 baseball season.

Dustin Pedroia won the prize for most interesting props surrounding his locker on Tuesday. The Sox second baseman was surprised to find a red, autographed Nature Boy Ric Flair wrestling robe hanging high above his locker along with a WWE wrestling belt beside it. Pedroia has always been a big fan of the 21-time wrestling champion and celebrated the gift by donning his yellow Hulk Hogan Hulkamania tank top pregame in the Sox clubhouse.

Jed Lowrie went 0-for-2 on Monday night in first rehab game with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, and followed that up on Tuesday afternoon with a 1-for-3 performance in six innings of work for the PawSox. Positive progress reports followed both games and Terry Francona said the infielder had no complaints about the former shoulder injury. Lowrie will report to Boston on Wednesday to work out with the team at Fenway, and Francona said hell be ready for big league duty shortly after playing a full nine inning game in the minors.

The one thing we have to do before we can activate him is get him into a nine inning game, said Francona. It doesnt have to be Thursday. He wouldnt be playing every day because weve got Scutaro, but I still think its important to play nine innings in a drawn out game and make sure he doesnt have any repercussions the next day.

Tim Wakefield celebrated his 45th birthday on Tuesday, and is the oldest active player in the Major Leagues. Hes also the oldest to ever appear in a game for the Red Sox and is slated to start Wednesday night while going for his 200th career victory.

Marco Scutaro was available to play Tuesday night after coming out of Mondays loss with dizziness and a racing heart beat, and was cleared after a visit with doctors for a checkup. Scutaro said he was fine and attributed the symptoms to something he drank before the game started, and pointed to a clubhouse refrigerator filled with Gatorades and energy drinks as the culprit.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.