Notes: Varitek getting reacquainted with Wakefield


Notes: Varitek getting reacquainted with Wakefield

By SeanMcAdam

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It almost wasn't fair.

There were Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz getting ready to take their first batting practice swings off live pitching, and they had to step in against Tim Wakefield and his knuckleball.

Youkilis flailed at a few offerings, Ortiz jokingly started running toward one of the approaching pitches, and Crawford appeared overwhelmed.

"Crawford was asking, 'Does Wake know he's making it go this way, that way, up, down?' '' recounted Jason Varitek, who caught the session. "I told him no. But that was the perception of some not as familiar with the knuckler, like he was trying to make it go toward the feet, he's trying to make it go away from them. I was like, interesting -- if he did, he should let us know.''

Varitek himself is getting re-acquianted with Wakefield's signature pitch this spring. It's been a while since he last caught him much in a game and there are still vivid memories of Varitek being unable to handle the pitch in the 2004 ALCS against New York.

Since then, of course, Wakefield has been paired with Doug Mirabellli, Kevin Cash, Victor Martinez and others. But it's time for Varitek to work with him and prepare.

"Wakefield is the one guy we always kept Varitek away from,'' said Terry Francona. "We want both catchers to have the ability to catch Wake so we don't ever feel like we're boxed in if Wakefield comes out of the bullpen.

"I think he caught him earlier in his career, and then when he was the everyday catcher, he was catching so much, that Wakefield's starts were just the obvious day to give him off. If you're not catching him regularly, that's not an easy thing to do. But Varitek can catch anybody. That won't be issue. He just needs some repition with him . . . We'll get both of those guys comfortable.''

The Red Sox have a number of players with zero-to-three years service time unsigned in camp, including pitchers Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz, infielder Jed Lowrie and outfielder Darnell McDonald.

The aforementioned players don't have much leverage, since they're noteligible for salary arbitration.

Major League Baseball has a deadline for players in that service class to be signed by the first week of March. Members of the Red Sox Baseball Operations Department have only recently reached out to the agents representing the players, though little progress has been made.

Ultimately, the Sox can unilaterally determine the salaries, though the club tends to take less of a hard-line with its younger players than some other franchises.

This season, the major-league minimum is increased to 414,000. The four players in that class will, to varying degrees, be paid significantly above that figure.

Reliever Dennys Reyes, who was signed earlier this month, has had some visa issues. He and countryman Alfredo Aceves will go to the Mexican consulate in Hermosillo Wednesday morning and are expected back into camp the next day.

Aceves is already in camp and has been throwing without restriction; Reyes, a lefty, has yet to report.

Francona doesn't believe Reyes's late arrival will hinder him in attempting to make the club.

"If he hasn't been throwing and he's behind, that wouldn't be good,'' said Francona. "I imagine he knows what he's in for. He knows he's in competition. He certainly wants to put his best foot forward. I certainly would be surprised if he allowed himself to get behind. We certainly don't want him to be behind.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

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.