Notes: McDonald, Varitek connect in the clutch

191542.jpg

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.

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.''