Tempers, fists fly as Sox brawl with Orioles

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Tempers, fists fly as Sox brawl with Orioles

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA
BOSTON -- What started as a blowout turned into a brawl on Friday night at Fenway Park.

After jumping out 8-0 in the first inning, the Red Sox had a commanding 10-3 lead over the Orioles in the bottom of the eighth. With one out and David Ortiz at the plate, the game had fended off rain showers and looked to be nearing its end.

That is, until Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg threw inside to Ortiz.

And then he did it again.

Ortiz took exception to the pitches and began to walk toward the mound, but retreated to the plate where he popped out to centerfield. Gregg shouted to Ortiz as he ran toward first base and was promptly ejected by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook. Once again, Ortiz headed toward the mound -- and this time, no one retreated.

3-0 count, theyre up seven, I think theres some ethics to this game that youve got to . . . guidelines that youve got to stay within. Run, Gregg said following the Red Sox 10-3 victory. You hit a fly ball, a lazy fly ball, youve got to run the bases. Apparently he didnt like me telling him that stuff and he came out there. Thats part of the game. He has the right to come out there. Im going to defend myself if he comes out.

As Gregg and Ortiz threw punches (none connected), benches and bullpens cleared. The two scuffling players were quickly enveloped in a mass of Red Sox and Orioles furiously trying to defend their teammates.

I think bloods flowing, were obviously scoring some runs. Its hard to explain unless youre out there, said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was ejected for his role in the scrum. Weve got to protect each other, protect our teammates. I dont think theres any reason for it. I didnt see anything that was reason to throw it at him.

Once tempers cooled and the players were separated, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia and Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson were also ejected. Saltalamacchia, who came out of the Red Sox bullpen, said he has no clue still as to why he was thrown out. While Ortiz did not address the media after the game, his teammates spoke out in his defense.

Starting pitcher Josh Beckett believes Gregg should have been thrown out for leaving the mound before Ortiz even popped out.

I dont know why they were trying to do that, but it was pretty obvious to me it wasnt just, Ill try to pitch you in, " he said, adding, "Gregg obviously said something to David. David's not the kind of guy that just, you know, something had to set him off.

Echoed Dustin Pedroia, Hes nice to everybody. Obviously he was upset, and thats why that happened.

After the game, both sides spoke of protecting their own. Marco Scutaro, at 5-foot-10, jumped on the 6-foot-6 Greggs back to try to restrain him from going after Ortiz. Josh Reddick, who was on third base at the time, said sticking up for your teammates is a huge thing here in the clubhouse.

And the sentiment was no different for the Orioles.

This is a team sport, said Gregg. I take offense to every run scored off every one of our pitchers. I take offense to every one of our hitters thats hit every time Im out there. Were a family we spend more time together with these 25 guys than I do with my own family. I take it personal. You get tired of getting your butt kicked every night when you come in here and Im going to stick up for whats ours and try to get the plate back.

The Red Sox (53-35) took a full-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East with the win and are fighting to maintain control of the top spot. Even though the Orioles, on the other hand, fell to 36-50, they refuse to stop battling.

I think you show them that were not backing down, said Gregg. Were not scared of them them and their 180 million payroll. We dont care. Were here to play the game. We have just as much right to play the game here and were going to do everything we can to win.

With two game left in the series, the two teams are on opposite ends of the standings, but neither team is planning on backing down.

I hope not, because were a good hitting team, said Beckett. They cant just be hitting our expletive guys because we score a lot of runs. Thats how the games played. And it may have been something totally different. Maybe they saw something they didnt like or whatever, but if its just because we scored eight runs in the first inning, theyre going to start throwing at our expletive guys?

Its going to be a long year.

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.com!JCameratoNBA

Here’s a switch: Red Sox last in A.L. in HRs, but first in steals

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Here’s a switch: Red Sox last in A.L. in HRs, but first in steals

BOSTON - It's an admittedly small sample size, but somehow, after the first 21 games of the season, the Red Sox' offense is going against type.
     
The Sox are somehow last in the American League in homers, but first in stolen bases.
     
The Red Sox have successfully stolen 20 of 22 bases, for a 90.9 percent success rate. The 20 steals are the most through the first 21 games of a season for a Red Sox team since 1995, when they had 21.
     
By contrast, the Sox needed 51 games last season to steal their 20th base.
     
"We spend quite a bit of time studying our opposition,'' said John Farrell, "and if there are certain things that might present opportunities for us, we'll look to take advantage of those as best possible. I think it speaks to the attention to detail. The success rate of stolen bases is not just a function of speed - it's clearly our guys being aware of certain things and paying close attention and staying focused to capitalize.''
     
Farrell wouldn't detail who has the "green light'' to run on their own, but pointed out that there are triggers of sorts for players to run.
     
"Guys are trusting the information being provided and exposed to,'' he said. "They take it upon themselves at that point.''
     
In 2013, when the Sox won the World Series, they were similarly aggressive and took advantage of chances to run and take extra bases.
     
"You try to create a characteristic of your team,'' Farrell offered. "Certainly, a lot is going to be dependent on the talent of your team, depending on your roster. We can't create speed for guys [where] it just isn't there. But in combination with that, there's the mental side  of it, paying attention and playing smart baseball. I think that's  what we're saying.''
     
Farrell also recalls the downside of that same aggressiveness when, in 2014, just one year removed, the Sox ran into a lot of early outs on the bases.
     
"Stolen bases are valuable, but giving away outs is not, obviously,'' said Farrell, who recalled reining in some baserunners who weren't successful. "As long as guys are trusting [of the program] and understand what's acceptable - there are certain game situations where the runner, in his mind, has got to be 100 percent sure he's going to get that extra 90 feet.''
     
Beyond the extra bases, Farrell likes the idea of putting pressure on the defense and distracting the pitcher on the mound.''
     
Of the two caught stealing the Red Sox have had, one was Tuesday night in Atlanta when a planned hit-and-run backfired as Brock Holt swung and missed and Travis Shaw was cut down at third. That means, incredibly, that the Sox have been thrown out just once in a true steal attempt.
     
As far as homers, the Sox have hit just 17 homers, ranking them 15th in the American League. Only two other teams Texas (19) and Cleveland (18) have fewer than 20 homers.
     
"I don't know what to make of that,'' Farrell noted. "I do know this: our offense is working well as a unit [leading the league in runs scored]. We've used the whole field. We play in a ballpark that's a really good doubles ballpark (the Sox are far and away the leaders there with 59; next best in the A.L. is Houston with 46) and hopefully that's playing to our advantage.
     
"But the overall approach - the situational hitting, that's been really good. I think our guys have a pretty good vibe about themselves offensively.''
     
In the Red Sox lineup, only two hitters -- Mookie Betts (four) and David Ortiz (three) -- have more than two homers.
     

Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

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Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

BOSTON -- The Red Sox and Braves play the finale of their home-and-home, four-game series tonight . . . to the Sox' dismay, no doubt.

Boston has won the first three games by a combined score of 21-8, extending its overall winning streak to four. The Sox have also won five of their last six, and six of their last eight, as they've closed to within a half-game of the first-place Orioles in the A.L. East. In addition, they now hold one of the two A.L. wild-card positions.

The lineups:

BRAVES:
Nick Markakis RF
Daniel Castro 3B
Adonis Garcia DH
Freddie Freeman 1B
A.J. Pierzynski C
Jeff Francoeur LF
Jace Peterson 2B
Erick Aybar SS
Mallex Smith CF
---
Jhoulys Chacin P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
---
Clay Buchholz P

Hanigan on handling the knuckler: ‘It’s always a battle’

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Hanigan on handling the knuckler: ‘It’s always a battle’

BOSTON - Major league catchers take a beating behind the plate. It goes with the territory.
      
There are foul tips off fingers, jarring blows to facemasks and, even in the aftermath of new rules regarding slides, vicious collisions with baserunners.
      
Those are all well-known parts of the job. Goes with the territory, catchers will shrug and say.
      
But what happened to Ryan Hanigan Wednesday night -- and last Friday night in Houston, for that matter -- was a different sort of test.
      
It was Hanigan's job to coral Steven Wright's knuckleball, dipping and darting in most unpredictable ways. Even the Atlanta Braves hitters seemingly had an easier time hitting the pitch than Hanigan did catching it.
      
Forget 99-mph fastballs; the toughest pitch for a catcher to handle is a knuckler that may not top 75 mph. 
      
From the second through the fourth inning, Hanigan battled and boxed balls, almost blocking and tackling them -- when he wasn't chasing them to the backstop, that is.
      
"It was really dancing tonight,'' said Hanigan after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Atlanta. "I think the wind played a factor. It was going all over the place.''
      
And, so, at times, was Hanigan, scrambling to keep the ball in  front of him, and, occasionally, going to retrieve it.
      
In the fourth inning, Erick Aybar reached on a strikeout passed ball, took second base, and eventually third on two more passed balls. He was one more floating, errant knuckler away from circling the bases despite never making contact with a pitch, or being advanced by a teammate making contact.
      
All Hanigan could do was hold on -- make that try to hold on -- for dear life.
      
"I was talking to the [home plate] umpire back there,'' chuckled Hanigan. "It was going up, down, left, right...It's always a battle. It's tough - every time I catch it, it's a small victory. Some days, it's more consistent in the way it moves. Some days, it's darting left and right and all over. It was one of those nights. I struggled a little bit with some of them back there.
      
"You're not going to catch all of them. That's just how it is. You have to try to stay positive, try working with him back there, keep him in his rhythm and [have him] throw as many strikes as he can.''
      
Problem is, even the strikes can be difficult to catch. At the last possible instant, the knuckleball can evade Hanigan's mitt, like a butterfly eluding capture. 
      
Wright can't help but have some sympathy for his batterymate.
      
"There's times where it can get frustrating [for him],’’ said Wright. "He does a great job. I can't give enough credit to him and what he's done.''
      
The paradox, of course, is that Wright wants the ball to move as much as possible to confound the hitters. Hanigan does too, but he has to deal with the consequences.
      
"The ones that stay high,'' he explained, "you expect a little drop. But they just don't. They tip off the top [of the catcher's mitt]. Those are tough. He had them really darting tonight. It just takes a  left turn on me. Those are tough. But that's what you want. So I just try to knock 'em down.
      
"You just can't really anticipate which way it's going to go. One will go right, one will go left, one will be flat, one will kind of  take off. And I think the wind [is a factor]. It helps [Wright].’’
      
While at the same time, hurting Hanigan.
      
Wright lasted seven innings, allowing just one unearned run.  Hanigan then went back to conventional pitchers Tommy Layne and Matt Barnes.
      
"Man, when I put the other glove on...it's all gravy after that,'' he said. "There's predictability as to which way the ball is going to move, at least to some extent. With the knuckleball, it does what it wants.''
      
And it's Hanigan's thankless task to catch it. Or chase after it.