Notes: McDonald, Varitek connect in the clutch

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Notes: McDonald, Varitek connect in the clutch

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com Follow @dannypicard
BOSTON -- Few plays actually decide a ballgame. One which took place with two outs in the top of the ninth Tuesday night did.

Trailing 3-0 in the top of the ninth, the Toronto Blue Jays got a two-run homer from Jose Bautista to close within a run of the Red Sox, then put the potential tying run on second in the person of Edwin Encarnacion.

John McDonald flared a single to left. Left fielder Darnell McDonald charged the ball and threw a strike to catcher Jason Varitek who blocked Encarnacion from the plate while applying a game-ending tag and a 3-2 win.

"I was just trying to get the ball in as quickly as I could,'' recounted McDonald. "It was a great job by the captain (Varitek); it was a do-or-die play . . . It felt real good to close out a game on a play like that.''

Because of the potential game-tying run in scoring position, McDonald was playing in shallow left for just such an occasion.

"Sometimes a shallow throw is tougher than one from deeper in the outfield,'' said McDonald. "I was just trying to grab it and throw a four-seamer as fast I could to the plate.''

At the plate, Varitek was preparing for a bang-bang play, sticking his left leg out to impede Encarnacion while not sacrificing his entire body in a collision the way San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey did earlier this season, resulting in a season-ending injury.

"You've got to stay in there,'' shrugged Varitek of the position of danger. "You don't win in that battle.''

But Varitek credited McDonald with air-mailing him a perfect throw on the fly, allowing Varitek to swipe and tag almost in one motion.

"It's all about the throw,'' said Varitek, "because a perfect throw allows you time to brace yourself a little.''

Varitek also credited McDonald with great preparation, noting that the McDonald practices throws from all three outfield positions nearly every day in pregame drills, learning the proper angles.

Nobody in the Red Sox bullpen expected to hear thephone ringing in the fourth inning. Not while their starter was throwing ano-hitter.But that was the reality of Tuesday nights game at FenwayPark, and the Red Sox bullpen came through to pick up exactly where the injuredJon Lester left off.Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Daniel Bard, and JonathanPapelbon each got their shot to save the day against the Toronto Blue Jays, andpreserve a 3-0 lead that Lester walked off the mound with after the top of thefourth.Albers ended up getting the win his third of the season after pitching two scoreless innings of one-hit ball while striking out two andwalking two. It marked the 10th time Albers has pitched more than one inningthis season. Only, this call to the mound came out of nowhere.Albers was just glad he had time to warm up while the RedSox hit in the bottom of the fourth.It really wasnt too much different, said Albers afterBostons 3-2 win. Obviously, you dont think that Lesters going to come outof the game, but once we heard the phone ring, we kind of knew what thesituation was. They said, Youre in the game, so I was able to get pretty muchloose out in the bullpen, which helped, instead of just going on the field andhaving to get loose from scratch. It really wasnt too much different thannormal.Morales came in and pitched a scoreless seventh, and Bardpitched a scoreless eighth. But Papelbon allowed a pair of runs in the ninth,on Jose Bautista two-run home run that just got over the front of the GreenMonster.I actually felt like the one pitch I made to Bautista wasone of the better pitches that I made tonight, said Papelbon. Theres 29ballparks that that balls a can of expletive. Cant do nothing about it.Still, Papelbon picked up his 18th save of the season,capping the type of bullpen relief one dreams about when their starter getstaken out early with an injury.You cant speak highly enough for our bullpen, said Lester.They picked me up tonight. They picked the team up. Especially after a rough game Monday in which the bullpen worked 6 23 innings. I needed to eat some innings up today, and unfortunately, Iwasnt able to do that. Dustin Pedroia made his secondappearance of the season in the cleanup spot Tuesdaynight. He went 1-for-4 with a solo home run that gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead inthe third inning.Hes made six career starts as the No. 4 hitter, and has homered in each of his last four games as the cleanup hitter. The last Red Sox cleanup hitter to hit home runs in four straight starts wasManny Ramirez. Clay Buchholz (lower back strain) is going to North Carolina on Wednesday to get checked out, and manager Terry Francona made it known that they are going to be extremely cautious with his injury going forward.

Clay is going to go see Dr. Brigham Wednesday Francona said. He has an appointment at eight oclock. I think hes on a 5 a.m. flight. Hell be thrilled about that. And then hopefully well get him looked at, and then go from there.

I dont know that theres many players that play right now that dont have some soreness somewhere. But we want to make sure if he pitches because hes probably going to be sore for a while that hes not hurting himself. Not only for his sake, but for ours."

Jed Lowrie still has discomfort in his shoulder, which has prevented him from hitting. He has, however, taken grounders and is getting better, according to Francona.

Jed took some groundballs, said Francona. Hes done everything but hit. He still has that discomfort and he doesnt want to hit, but his strength is really improving, which is good.
Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Danny Picard is on twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

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McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

CHICAGO -- It could happen Thursday night, or perhaps sometime this weekend in New York, where he always hits well.
      
But sometime soon, David Ortiz is going to tie, then surpass, Carl Yastrzesmski as the second-greatest home run hitter in Red Sox history.
      
Ortiz hit his sixth of the season Wednesday night, giving him 451 for his Red Sox career, one behind Yastrzemski. Ted Williams is, of course, the Red Sox' all-time leader with 521, safely out of reach.
      
"Know what happens when that's happening?'' asked Ortiz, when told of the approaching milestone. "I'm getting old, man. Like I always say, whenever they mention your name right next to the legends, it's something that, humbly I can tell you, is an honor.''
      
What makes Ortiz's spot on the list all the more amazing is that he has reached these heights after being discarded by the Minnesota Twins some 14 years ago.
      
He arrived as a backup first baseman, initially stuck behind Jeremy Giambi on the Red Sox depth chart. He'll retire, later this year, as one of the handful of best hitters the franchise has ever known.
      
On nights like Wednesday, the context seemed to have Ortiz himself in awe.
      
"I was just a guy who was trying to have a good career,'' said Ortiz, “and put (my) family in a better situation. Now, all of a sudden, these things are happening. It's a blessing.''
      
It's a stretch to suggest that these things are happening "all of a sudden.'' To the contrary, they're the result of a remarkable stretch of 14 seasons in Boston.
     
Only now are the numbers coming into focus. And what numbers they are.
      
Beyond Ortiz's ascension on the all-time lists for the both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox in particular are the improbable feats of a 40-year-old who is performing this season at a level that would be impressive for a hitter a decade younger.
      
Consider:
      
* When Ortiz homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances last Friday, he did so on a first-pitch curveball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noted that Betances had thrown 355 first-pitch curveballs in his career; Ortiz was the first to hit a homer on one of those pitches.
      
In fact, only six of the first 355 had even been put in play.
      
Ortiz hit his well into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
      
* On Wednesday night, Ortiz became the first lefthanded hitter to ever homer off White Sox lefty starter Carlos Rodon.
      
Since last July 2, Ortiz is third among all lefthanded hitters in hitting homers off lefthanded pitchers. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who was being benched as recently as last June against some lefty starters.
     
And what did Rodon learn about that particular showdown?
      
"Don't throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,'' said Rodon.
      
Sounds like a good strategy.
      
It's fairly amazing that a 40-year-old, in his final season, is enjoying all these firsts. But Ortiz has lasted this long, and played at such a high level, precisely because he works to get better all the time.
      
Manager John Farrell noted that Ortiz hadn't faced Rodon before Wednesday night and didn't look particularly good in his first two at-bats, grounding into a double play and hitting a flyout.
      
But Ortiz is forever making mental notes, getting ready to make adjustments and process what he's seen.
      
"His retention is great,'' marveled Farrell. "He understands what he's seeing after just one at-bat.''
      
There's still more than five months to go in the regular season and a lot can happen in that span. But after a month in 2016, it seems likely that we are in the midst of one of the greatest final seasons a player has ever enjoyed.