Is Nomar Garciaparra retiring? Say it isn’t so. At age 36, with several surgeries having limited his playing time in recent years, the last rock at the shortstop position in Boston is hanging up his uniform for good – maybe, maybe not – with a press conference this morning in Fort Myers.
The legendary Ted Williams touted “NO-mah” as the game’s next great player and he seemed destined for a Hall of Fame career. First, he easily won Rookie of the Year honors in 1997, then followed that with a second-place finish in the MVP ballot in 1998 and two batting titles in two years (1999 and 2000). Five times, he was named to the All-Star while with Boston, and he was often compared to other great shortstops of his time, including Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada.
When Garciaparra returned as an Oakland Athletic last July to Fenway Park for the first time since being traded away in 2004, he received a lengthy standing ovation from an appreciative crowd, to which he tipped his cap and graciously clapped along with them. It reminded us of the moment following a series-ending loss to Cleveland in the 1998 American League Division Series; as the Indians celebrated on the field by the visitor’s dugout, Garciaparra stepped back out from the Boston dugout, turned to the stands, and began clapping in genuine appreciation of the Red Sox fans that had followed the team all season and every season before then.
Boston is still searching for the answer at short while fans search for answers on why such a promising career ended too soon; some might say that Garciaparra is to this generation what Fred Lynn was to the last one and Tony Conigliaro was to the one before then. Red Sox fans will always have a place in its collective heart reserved for Garciaparra, who gave all he had with the club for eight seasons, but we will always wonder what might have been for him.
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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.
20 August 1967 – On this day forty years ago, Red Sox outfielder Reggie Smith hits three home runs in two games at Fenway Park as Boston not only sweeps a doubleheader against California, 12-2 and 9-8, but completes a four-game series sweep against the Angels. The four wins also avenges a sweep at the hands of the Angels in Anaheim one week earlier and moves the surging Red Sox to within 1-1/2 games of first place in the American League, but comes at a price; Tony Conigliaro is beaned by a Jack Hamilton pitch in the first game of the series and the young outfielder will miss not only the rest of the season but the entire 1968 campaign as well.
In the first game, Smith becomes the first player in franchise history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a single game; his first, a three-run shot, comes in the first inning off left-handed starting pitcher George Brunet and the second, a two-run blast, comes in the sixth off right-hander Pete Cimino. Rico Petrocelli and Carl Yastrzemski also homer as Boston scores five runs in the first and six runs in the sixth to make it a laugher.
In the nightcap, the Angels take a commanding 8-0 lead before Smith hits his third home run of the day, a solo shot off Angels starter Jim McGlothlin, with one out in the fourth inning. The Red Sox then score three in the fifth on Yastrzemski’s second home run of the day and four in the sixth to tie the score at eight runs apiece; third baseman Jerry Adair then completes the scoring with a solo home run into the netting above the Green Monster. In the ninth inning, the Angels attempt to salvage at least one game in the series thanks to a single and a double to open the frame that put runners on second and third. However, reliever Jose Santiago manages to pitch out of the jam by inducing a groundout to second base, a strikeout, and a international walk followed by a groundout into a force at second.