The Boston Red Sox, a season removed from a world championship, are set to open the 2015 regular reason today in Philadelphia against the Phillies, the first time in team history that Boston will open against a National League opponent. The Red Sox, who followed the 2013 championship season with a last place finish in the American League East, the second such finish in three seasons, will be managed for a third year by John Farrell. Boston will play an additional road series in New York against the Yankees before opening Fenway Park next Monday versus the Washington Nationals.
Some of the new faces are already familiar to fans of the Boston nine. Outfielder Hanley Ramirez, who came up through the Red Sox farm system as a shortstop and appeared in two games with Boston before being part of a trade in November 2005 for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, returns to the fold, as does starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who appeared in 67 games for Boston in 2008 and 2009. Other new players include third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who played for seven seasons in San Francisco and won three World Series with the Giants, including last season, and pitcher Rick Porcello, who came as part of a trade with Detroit for Yoenis Cespedes.
Besides winning the final game of a home series against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park this afternoon, 11-8, to complete a four-game sweep, the game also featured grand slams from Boston Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew and third baseman Mike Lowell in the second and sixth innings, respectively. Drew’s home run came after Manny Ramirez, Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis hit consecutive singles off starter Brian Bannister, his third career grand slam. Lowell’s base-clearing blast came with two outs after the Royals intentionally walked a struggling Ramirez, who remains stuck on 498 career home runs; it was Lowell’s sixth career slam and his third since joining Boston.
It marked the first time since 2003 that the Red Sox hit two grand slams in a single game when Bill Mueller hit grand slams from both sides of the plate on 29 July, the first player in major league history to accomplish the feat. The last time two separate Boston players hit grand slams in the same game was in 1995 when former infielder John Valentin and first baseman Mo Vaughn did it on the road at Yankee Stadium on 02 May, accounting for the only runs in an 8-0 shutout of New York. The last time it happened at Fenway was nearly 24 years ago when Bill Buckner and Tony Armas each hit one off Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris in the first and second inning, respectively, of a 12-7 win.
After overcoming a cancer diagnosis in 2006 to pitch for the Red Sox in 2007, southpaw Jon Lester was honored on Wednesday with the 2007 Tony Conigliaro Award. The honor is given to players who have overcome an obstacle and adversity and is named after the former Boston outfielder who was tragically struck by an errant pitch in 1967 but returned to earn Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1969. He played another full season for Boston before the effects of the pitch on his vision forced him to retire shortly into the 1971 season; however, he then made an abbreviated comeback with the Sox in 1975 and got a hit in his first at-bat on Opening Day at Fenway Park. Sadly, the East Boston native suffered a massive heart attack in early 1982 while interviewing for a broadcast position with the Sox and passed away eight years later at age 45 in 1990.
Lester, who was 4-0 in 12 starts this season and won the decisive Game Four of the World Series for the Sox, started 15 games in 2006 and posted a 7-2 record before doctors discovered a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in late August 2006 during a physical that followed a minor car crash nearly two weeks earlier that month. Following treatment, CT scans a few months later showed that the cancer was in remission, and the young pitcher joined his teammates in Fort Myers the following spring. Lester then started the season for the Greenville Drive, a Red Sox Single-A affiliate, before moving to Triple-A Pawtucket in late April. In mid-June, Boston removed Lester from the disabled list but kept him in Pawtucket to continue his rehabilitation. Nearly a month later, with his parents watching on from the stands at Jacobs Field, he made his first major league start of 2007 on July 23 against the Indians in Cleveland, going six full innings and allowing just two runs on five hits while striking out six and picking up his first win in nearly a year.
In the post-season, Lester made two relief appearances in the American League Championship Series versus Cleveland and pitched a total of 3-2/3 innings, giving up two runs on three hits. Lester was then given the ball to start Game Four of the World Series against Colorado in place of veteran Tim Wakefield, who had been left off the series roster due to back problems. He responded by keeping the Rockies off the board in 5-2/3 innings while yielding just three hits and three walks and striking out three; he eventually earned the series-clinching win for Boston as the team celebrated its second championship in four seasons.
Lester is the second Boston player to be honored; former pitcher Bret Saberhagen, who came back from serious shoulder injuries to win 15 games for the Red Sox in 1998, received the award that same season. The following year, current Boston third baseman and 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell was honored after being treated for testicular cancer in spring training and returning to average .258 while collecting 12 home runs and 47 RBI for the Florida Marlins over the final four months of the 1999 season.
With Jonathan Papelbon blowing a 95 MPH fastball past pinch-hitter Seth Smith on a 2-2 count, the Boston Red Sox won Game Four of the 2007 World Series over the Colorado Rockies 4-3 and earned its second World Series title in four years. Third baseman Mike Lowell, who batted .400 with a home run and four RBI in the Fall Classic, was named series MVP, less than two years after coming to Boston as part of the deal that brought American League Championship Series MVP Josh Beckett to the club.
Boston only trailed for three innings in the entire series and, after taking Games One and Two at Fenway Park by scores of 13-1 and 2-1, the switch to the high altitude at Coors Field seemed to make little difference to the Red Sox, who won Game Three by a score of 10-5 before closing out the series Sunday night in gritty fashion. Rookie outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who started all four games of the series after starting the last two of the ALCS, got Boston on the board first with a double followed one out later by a David Ortiz RBI single on the drawn-in infield. Boston got another run in the fifth on an RBI single by catcher Jason Varitek as Lowell slid home ahead of the tag, and the club got two more runs on solo home runs by Lowell and Bobby Kielty in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Colorado made it close with a solo home run by right fielder Brad Hawpe in the seventh and a two-run shot by third baseman Garrett Atkins in the eighth with one out, but Papelbon recorded the last five outs for his third save of the series.
The Sox have now won eight straight World Series games dating back to its Fall Classic sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, when Boston won its first title since 1918, a span of 86 years. It marks the seventh World Championship in franchise history, and the Sox are the first club to win two titles in the 21st century as it ends a seven-year streak of seven different teams winning the title, which began in 2000 with the New York Yankees.
Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched eight strong, closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth, and Mike Lowell added to his single season franchise-record RBI total for a third baseman as Boston defeated Minnesota 5-2 at Fenway Park; combined with New York’s 10-9 loss in Baltimore, the Red Sox captured the American League East division title for the first time since 1995. The Yankees, who will enter the playoffs as the Wild Card winner, had won the last nine AL East crowns but, having led the division since mid-April by as many as 11-1/2 games, the Red Sox held off a late-season charge by their biggest rival and will play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, winners of the AL West Division, in the first round of the post-season.
Boston is also tied with the Cleveland Indians, winners of the Central Division who will play the Yankees in a divisional series, for the best record in the American League. Based on the Red Sox winning five-of-seven against the Indians in the regular season, Boston would own the tiebreaker if both teams end the season tied with the best record and have home-field advantage for the playoffs. The Red Sox are already guaranteed home-field advantage in the first round and will host the first game of their division series with the Angels at Fenway.