Did You Know – Red Sox Opening Day Home Runs

Hitting a round tripper on Opening Day, like hitting one in the World Series or an All-Star Game, is not an unusual feat, but doing it more than once is noteworthy in some respects.

Hitting a round tripper on Opening Day, like hitting one in the World Series or an All-Star Game, is not considered unusual, but doing it more than once is noteworthy in some respects. In the ninth inning of Tuesday afternoon’s 6-2 win for Boston over Cleveland, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz hit what proved to be his fifth career home run on Opening Day, his third with the Red Sox after hitting two with the Minnesota Twins earlier in his career. After what was a quiet spring (4-for-35 with three extra base hits), the sight of him launching one into the bleachers was a welcome sight to Red Sox fans looking for a positive start to the 2016 season.

The home run also proved to be number 504 in Big Papi’s career, which ties him with Eddie Murray for 26th all-time in MLB history. After Murray, his next target on the all-time list would be Gary Sheffield (509), followed by Mel Ott (511), Ernie Banks (512) and Eddie Matthews (also 512). He now also has 446 home runs with the Red Sox, which puts him six behind Carl Yastrzemski for second place (452) and well behind Ted Williams with 521, whom he has a chance to catch only in the career total category.

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Boston Red Sox Pitchers Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz 2011 Jimmy Fund Co-Captains

The Jimmy Fund announces today that Red Sox Pitchers Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz have signed on again as the 2011 Jimmy Fund Co-Captains. First up: Spokesplayers for the 2011 Jimmy Fund’s Rally Against Cancer. Pitch in against the fight against cancer and learn how to win a visit from one of the players at RallyAgainstCancer.org.

BOSTON — Today, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund announce that Boston Red Sox pitchers Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz will continue as Jimmy Fund Co-Captains for the 2011 season. Their first assignment is to be this year’s Spokesplayers for the Jimmy Fund’s Rally Against Cancer.

Buchholz was the 2010 Rally Against Cancer spokesplayer in addition to being Jimmy Fund Co-Captain last year. Wakefield, a strong supporter of the Jimmy Fund for many years, was also a Co-Captain last year, and will be a Spokesplayer for the Rally Against Cancer for the first time this year. Wakefield and Buchholz join the ranks of past Rally Against Cancer Spokesplayers, including Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Trot Nixon.

As Jimmy Fund Co-Captains, the two pitchers will be ambassadors for the Jimmy Fund to raise awareness and build support for cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They will also lend their support to Jimmy Fund events, visit adult and pediatric clinics, thank donors, and more.

Now in its sixth year, Rally Against Cancer encourages Red Sox fans to partner with their companies and schools, and encourage co-workers, classmates, and friends, to each contribute $5 or more to the Jimmy Fund. In exchange, they “Dress for Sox-cess” by wearing Boston Red Sox gear to work or school on Friday, 08 April, when the Sox take on the New York Yankees at Fenway Park for their home opener. The top fundraising company and school (K-12, college or university) are each eligible for a visit from Wakefield or Buchholz, if located within two-hour travel distance from Boston.

This year’s event adds a new twist: up for grabs are two Wild Card visits. Each team that raises $5,000 or more is eligible to win one of two visits from Wakefield or Buchholz (see full contest rules at RallyAgainstCancer.org).

In five years, Rally Against Cancer has raised $1.9 million to support the fight against cancer at Dana-Farber. This year, the program hopes to raise $500,000. For more information about Rally, please visit www.RallyAgainstCancer.org.

The Jimmy Fund supports Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, helping to raise funds for adult and pediatric cancer care and research and improve the chances of survival for cancer patients around the world. It is an official charity of the Boston Red Sox, as well as the official charity of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, and the Variety Children’s Charity of New England. Since 1948, the generosity of millions of people has helped the Jimmy Fund (www.jimmyfund.org) save countless lives and reduce the burden of cancer.

Boston Red Sox Pitcher Clay Buchholz Rallies Against Cancer with the Jimmy Fund

Buchholz announced today as fifth spokesplayer for annual fundraiser

BOSTON – Today, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund announced that Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is the fifth honorary Rally Against Cancer Spokesplayer. He joins the ranks of past Red Sox spokesplayers Jon Lester, Trot Nixon, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis.

Now in its fifth year, Rally Against Cancer encourages Red Sox fans to partner with their companies and schools, as well as their co-workers, classmates, and friends, to each contribute $5 or more to the Jimmy Fund. In exchange, they have the opportunity to wear Red Sox gear to work or school on Rally Day, Tuesday, April 6, when the Sox take on the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. The top fundraising company, school (K-12), and college or university are each eligible for a visit from Buchholz, if located within two-hour travel distance from Boston.

In four years, the Rally has raised $1.6 million in support of the fight against cancer at Dana-Farber. This year, the program hopes to raise $600,000. Buchholz will talk about his participation in the Rally at an upcoming press conference during spring training in Fort Myers, FL.

For more information about the Rally, please visit www.rallyagainstcancer.org.

Founded in 1948, the Jimmy Fund is an official charity of the Boston Red Sox, supporting the fight against cancer at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, helping to raise the chances of survival for children and adults with cancer around the world. Unrestricted support from the Jimmy Fund is an integral part of Mission Possible: The Dana-Farber Campaign to Conquer Cancer, a $1 billion capital campaign to accelerate cancer research, speed development of lifesaving therapies, and expand the Institute’s signature patient and family-centered care.

Should Baseball Have Instant Replay?

Should baseball institute instant replay for disputed calls on the field? The rash of missed or disputed home run calls this week has only intensified the argument for bringing baseball into the twenty-first century and more in-line with its football and hockey brethren. It isn’t a question of the abilities of the crew in blue; it takes unparalleled focus to handle an intense nine-inning contest that may last well over three hours. More so, the sole purpose would be to give umpires a fifth, unbiased view of the play to ensure that there would be little doubt left on the field.

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End Of An Era: Trot Nixon Heads To Cleveland

After 13 seasons with the Red Sox organization, free agent outfielder Trot Nixon, who was not offered arbitration by the team in December, signed a one-year deal worth $3 million to start fresh in Cleveland and will wear number 33 with the Indians. Drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in 1993, Nixon was known for his hard-nose style of play, noted by the batting helmet he often wore that was covered in dirt and pine tar; although not as flashy as some of his teammates, he earned the respect of the Boston faithful and the distinction of being one of the team’s original “Dirt Dogs.”

After two quick cups of coffee, his first full season with the Red Sox came in 1999; early on, it appeared as though he would return to the minors when he started out of the gate barely hitting above .100. However, he recovered well enough to finish with a .270 batting average, 15 home runs, and 52 RBI. In ten seasons with Boston, Nixon batted .278, hit 133 home runs, and drove in 523 runs while managing a .366 on-base percentage. He also became a master of Fenway’s often-tricky right field and managed a .984 fielding percentage in that position for most of his time in Boston.

Among his highlights with the Red Sox included a two-run home run in the top of the ninth at Yankee Stadium on 30 May 2000 in a duel between then-teammate Pedro Martinez and ex-Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens; those two runs were the difference in an eventual 2-0 win for Boston. He also drove home the final two runs for Boston in the deciding Game Four of the 2004 World Series on a two-out double off the right field wall at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in the top of the third inning to give Boston a 3-0 lead. Those also proved to be the last runs scored by either team in that game as the Red Sox swept the Cardinals for the team’s first championship title in 86 years. For the series, Nixon batted .357 and drove in three runs after spending most of the regular season nursing injuries.

With Boston expected to announce the signing of outfielder J.D. Drew in the near future, Nixon’s departure was not unexpected, given that he would likely end up sharing a bench role with Wily Mo Pena, eight years his junior and also seen as a back-up first baseman to Kevin Youkilis.

2005 Season Preview

It’s almost with sad reserve that we open the 2005 season after Red Sox fans enjoyed the fruits of a successful 2004 campaign. Yes, Boston will often be referred to as the defending World Series champions this season but, for all intent and purpose, last season’s amazing accomplishment doesn’t count for anything in this year’s standings. Still, with renewed enthusiasm, this team is looking to realize something even more astounding: repeating as champions for the first time since the Red Sox won back-to-back titles in 1915 and 1916. The team returns looking pretty much the same as last season’s squad, even with a few additions and subtractions, so how will this season compare to last? Hopefully we answer some of those questions here.

How much with the loss of Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez hurt?

Both guys played key roles in the 2004 post-season; Lowe was the winning pitcher in all three series-clinching games and Martinez dazzled in his only World Series appearance. They also combined to win 30 games during the regular season and both stayed healthy for the entire season. Only time will tell if Matt Clement, Wade Miller, and David Wells will be able to combine their efforts to repeat, but we have to remember that the Sox also have one of the best lineups at the plate. While the win totals were impressive, both Lowe and Martinez had their earned-run averages jump considerably, combining for a 4.59 ERA. Lowe’s 5.42 ERA was almost three runs higher than his stellar 2002 campaign numbers, and Martinez’s 3.90 ERA was almost double his Red Sox career average. The point is that, barring an unlikely drop-off in production at the plate, the Sox will continue to win, even with these two wearing different uniforms this season.

Should we be concerned with Curt Schilling missing the opener?

If you believe Schilling, the only reason that he is heading to the DL to start the season is because he needs another week or so to work on his mechanics. His infamous ankle, which was surgically repaired last November nearly a week after the World Series ended, is not the problem; it has fully healed and trainers gave him the green light early enough in spring training that he would otherwise be in the Bronx next Sunday night to open the season for Boston. Luckily, the Sox have enough off days during the first two weeks of the season to go with a four-man rotation and Schilling should be available before the schedule becomes more demanding.

Has Edgar Renteria stabilized the shortstop position?

Renteria should cement himself in that position for many years to come, especially given that the Sox signed him to a four-year contract at $10 million per season. He is a year younger than fellow Colombian Orlando Cabrera, whom he replaces in the Red Sox lineup and a couple years younger than Nomar Garciaparra, who seemed to be a permanent fixture in Boston until last year. Like Cabrera, he is a Gold Glove winner and has flashed the leather many times this spring, already winning over the hearts of Red Sox fans. He also adds more punch in the lineup, with a lifetime batting average of .289 and 10 or more home runs each season over the last six years. Prospect Hanley Ramirez, who impressed coaches and the front office this spring, waits in the wings in Portland but don’t be surprised if he’s never seen in Boston, so long as Renteria performs as expected.

What more can we expect from David Ortiz this season?

There is just so much beauty in that man’s swing, it almost brings a tear to my eye. Looking at his statistics from last season through the regular season and into the playoffs, it’s just amazing what he has done since the Sox picked him off waivers from Minnesota. Last year, “Big Papi” amassed 41 home runs and 139 RBI, spending more than three-quarters of the time in the DH role, and his post-season heroics earned him MVP honors in the American League Championship Series. This spring, it’s evident that his powerful stroke has not diminished, even if he’s taken off a few pounds during the off-season. Terry Francona expects to use him as the everyday DH, so there’s no reason that he can’t continue to compile the numbers that make jaws drop everywhere.

Who will be the surprise of the season?

Jay Payton grabbed headlines when he was traded to Boston in December for Dave Roberts, but perhaps overlooked in that deal was the acquisition of infielder Ramon Vazquez. The four-year veteran from Puerto Rico, who has averaged 78 games in that time, plays all four infield positions and sports a .979 fielding percentage. Remember how valuable Pokey Reese was for Boston last season? Perhaps he might not get as many opportunities as Pokey, who took advantage of Nomar’s absence for the first half of the season, but he should prove valuable as a late-inning defensive replacement. Plus, when one of the veterans needs an off-day to recover from aches and pains, Vazquez should prove adequate with a .262 lifetime average.

Will Adam Stern remain with Boston for the entire season?

Being a Rule V pick-up, Stern would be shipped back to the Atlanta Braves if the Sox are unable to find a permanent place for him on the major league roster. Unfortunately, there are five Red Sox outfielders in front of him: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, Payton, and Kevin Millar. Adam Hyzdu has already been sent packing this spring for that very reason. Barring an injury to one of the fore mentioned players, Boston will not jump through hoops to retain his services, so expect him back with Atlanta by mid-summer.

Isn’t Francona deserving of an extension now?

Francona managed in his first year at the Red Sox helm to win a World Series championship, something that no Boston manager had done since Ed Barrow, also in his first season as manager, in 1918. To some, that would seem like reason enough to sign him to a new contract right now; however, the Red Sox front office is not going to rush to get him guaranteed for anything past the current length of their agreement with him, at least through this season. Should his fortunes continue, then it’s possible that he would be granted an extension after that, as well as a statue right next to Ted Williams‘s, but both Francona and the Sox are content to let sleeping dogs lie for now.

Will they or won’t they?

It bears repeating that all roads to the championship will lead through New York and the Yankees spent the winter reloading the arsenal as usual. However, the Red Sox are just as strong themselves and should be able to rise to the challenge once more. Winning the division has become inconsequential thanks to the Wild Card draw; Boston should do well enough again to earn at least that prize and make the playoffs. As long as they play to their potential and Francona continues to make smart coaching decisions, the Red Sox should get another chance to meet a National League opponent in late October for all the marbles.

2004 World Series Preview

Well, so far I’m six-for-six in calling these match-ups, but then you won’t see me jetting off to Vegas anytime soon to test my abilities in the World Series of Poker. Instead, I’ll concentrate on the original World Series of baseball where each team needed all seven games of their respective championship series to win the pennants of the American and National Leagues. Now before us, to the excitement of baseball buffs everywhere, are two teams who have met twice before in the battle for the title, once in 1946 and once in 1967. In both instances, St. Louis and Boston went to a deciding Game 7 and the Cardinals won over the Red Sox each time. While the days of Enos Slaughter, Ted Williams, Bob Gibson, and Carl Yastrzemski are long gone, there is no doubt that we have the makings of another Fall Classic.

St. Louis (105-61) vs Boston (98-64)
Season series: No games played

The Red Sox, facing the possibility of getting swept in the American League Championship Series by New York, were down to their last three outs when they rallied to tie the game. From there, they went on to win the final four games, including the last two in front of a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd, to clinch the AL pennant for the first time in 18 years. Meanwhile, the Cardinals returned from Houston down 3-2 in the National League Championship Series with the Astros and needed to win both games; they did just that, winning with a walk-off home run by Jim Edmonds in Game 6 and coming back late in Game 7 against Roger Clemens to clinch their first NL pennant in 17 years. On paper, these two teams look evenly matched, so who has the advantage over whom?

For Boston, they have a stronger starting rotation, even with Curt Schilling and his tender tendon that was held in place by two stitches so that he could pitch the Sox to victory in Game 6. The other pitcher of the moment for Boston is Derek Lowe, who pitched brilliantly in the deciding seventh game and, even with a seven-run cushion, allowed just one run on one hit in six innings of work. Of course, there is the arm of Pedro Martinez, who was strong in his two starts as well. Opposing them will be a strong rotation in itself, with Matt Morris, Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, and Woody Williams looking to stifle the Sox. Suppan delivered a clutch performance in the deciding game of the NLCS, out-dueling Clemens and a hungry Astros lineup. Williams is expect to start the first game and has great command, having earned a win in his first start of that series and going seven innings in his second start, allowing just one hit and no runs. Marquis and Morris both won 15 games this season on a staff that, like Boston, had five pitchers win ten or more starts but have struggled slightly in the post-season.

The bullpen match-up is also interesting; Boston has Keith Foulke as its closer, who appeared five times in the ALCS and earned a save in Game 6. His best work came in Game 4 when, with just one out in the seventh and Boston down by a run, he was asked to try and keep New York off the board; he responded by walking just two batters while not allowing a single hit in 2-2/3 innings to set up the late-inning dramatics for the Red Sox. St. Louis counters with Jason Isringhausen, who led the NL in saves with 47; he pitched six times in the NLCS and earned three saves. While he did blow a save, it was when he was asked to get the final nine outs of the ball game but only managed to get the first eight. He also had one loss, but that was on the road in extra frames with the score knotted at zero. The rest of the bullpen is evenly matched and both were key in helping get to this point of the season.

On offense, the Red Sox boasts a strong infield that committed just one error in the ALCS. Bill Mueller gobbles up balls hit anywhere close to him at third base, as does former Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera at short. Late in the game, Boston brings Pokey Reese in at second and Doug Mientkiewicz in at first, giving them three Gold Glove winners in the infield to back up Foulke and the rest of the bullpen. In the outfield, Johnny Damon patrols center field and, while his arm is a little weak, he gets to the ball fast. For the Cardinals, the human highlight reel in center field, Edmonds, who has made enough impressive catches in his career that would make fishermen jealous, leads them on offense. They also have Edgar Renteria playing short and Scott Rolen at third; together, they allowed just 24 errors in the regular season, making it unlikely that a mistake will come from the left side of the infield.

The lineup on either side of the field boasts some heavy hitters. Boston has the dynamic duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Ramirez did not drive in a single run in the ALCS but scored three runs and batted .300; Ortiz, on the other hand, was the offense for Boston late in the series, batting .387 with 11 RBI and collecting game-winning hits in Games 4 and 5, good enough for series MVP honors. He also led off the deciding game with a two-run home run and Boston never trailed in that game. Jason Varitek was also money against the Yankees, collecting seven RBI while batting .321, and Damon awoke from his ALCS slumber in Game 7 to plate a record six runs. For St. Louis, they are led by Albert Pujols, the NLCS MVP, who stroked four home runs, drove in nine, and batted .500. They also have Edmonds, Rolen, and Larry Walker launching baseballs into the stratosphere; Edmonds stroked a walk-off home run in the 12th inning of Game 6 and Rolen stroked a long ball to finish a rally by the Cardinals late in Game 7.

If there is one X-factor to watch in this series, it will be what Boston will do with Ortiz, the everyday designated hitter, when they travel to St. Louis and must play by National League rules. Ortiz did start 31 games at first base this season, so it’s almost certain that he’ll be there for the middle three games at a minimum; his bat is so hot right now that to remove him might psychologically deflate the potent offense. That also means that Kevin Millar will likely sit on the bench and only appear late to pinch-hit for a pitcher, but Francona may give Trot Nixon a rest in one game and let the Millar adventure to right field. If Ortiz can shake the rust, then there shouldn’t be much of a letdown.

Again, this has all the makings of a classic; Boston fans feel strongly that their time has finally come after 86 years of failure. St. Louis fans, though not quite as rabid, are just as loyal and would love to see the Cardinals bring home a championship trophy for the first time in 22 years. It’s almost too close to call, but Boston gets the edge in my book for two reasons. At the moment, they have a stronger pitching staff that proved in the final four games of the ALCS that they are ready to do whatever is called upon them to accomplish; the Yankee lineup was no less strong than what the Cardinals will throw at them. Second, in contrast, Boston has the potential to light up any rotation and have shown the ability this post-season to rally late against an even stronger closer, Mariano Rivera, who blew two consecutive saves for the first time in his experienced post-season career. This series will more than likely go the full seven games but, in the end, New England fans will get a second chance this year to watch a championship parade wind through downtown Boston.

Mourning The Yankees?

Passionate Red Sox fans are still trying to wash the bitter taste of defeat from their mouth after watching the Red Sox hand a sure victory over the New York Yankees last October. Once again, we had to endure the taunts from the Yankee faithful and talk of an unspoken curse made by a dead ballplayer. Then, we watched these two teams play hardball in the baseball market; the Sox lured Curt Schilling away from balmy Arizona and the Yankees while New York snatched Alex Rodriguez, a player that was thisclose to being in a Red Sox uniform. In March, spring training tickets between the Sox and Yanks were fetching $500 each for a game that no impact on the upcoming season except to evaluate non-roster invitees vying for a spot on the parent club. As the season began, the rivalry was about as heated as it has ever been and we wondered what stories would be written this year.

So Sunday afternoon, as I watched Gary Sheffield weakly swing at strike three from Scott Williamson to end a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, I had to stop myself from clapping and cheering too loudly in my living room, less I wake up my sleeping son on the other end of the house. Boston has just managed to take six out of a possible seven games in ten days from New York and, while fans of Boston were trying their best to stay grounded and remind themselves that championships are won in October, Yankee fans were jeering their beloved nine. Peering into the enemy dugout, the pinstriped hosts looked as if they had just been to a funeral. Meanwhile, the visitors casually filed onto the field to congratulate each other and fans wondered if they were not feeling as elated as the rest of New England.

Something just did not feel right, though. Granted, as it has already been established, it’s only April and the Sox have plenty of games left to play before the season ends. However, that was not what bothered me. Had the Yankees, with eight All-Stars in the starting lineup for Sunday, been unable to beat a Red Sox team that was missing Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon? Were they not able to get into the mind of Pedro Martinez, who had single-handedly (with some help from Grady Little) given Game Seven of last year’s American League Championship series back to the Yankees? What happens when our team is finally together as it was put together on paper in the off-season; what will happen then when these two collide later this season?

No one should feel sorry for the New York Yankees with the 26 world championships and the $183 million payroll. No sympathy cards must be mailed to George Steinbrenner. No flowers need to be delivered to Joe Torre or Brian Cashman’s office. No Get Well cards must be sent to Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. If the Yankees have proven one thing over the years, it is their resilient nature and the ability to bounce back from troubled times. No one truly believes that the Yankees are done; it’s only April, remember?

Yet, what if this is the season that the Yankees finally come apart at the seams? What if they are doomed to a .500 season, or worse? What if the team doesn’t improve much from its abysmal .217 batting average, 53 points less than opponents are batting against them? Have teams from the AL East finally figured out how to pitch around these guys? Have they lost the ability to produce runs when needed, one at a time? Will the jeers from the minions at Yankee Stadium continue into May, then June, and perhaps all the way into September?

As a Red Sox fan, my first priority is to see that the Red Sox win the World Series. My only contribution to this effort is my unyielding support through thick and thin and perhaps the purchase of some tickets every season. However, what I would love nothing more is to see that, on the way, they stomp on New York to earn that title. I don’t mean win 15-of-19 games during the regular season and finish 20 games in front of them; I want another classic ALCS showdown.

I want to see a series between them that ends with the Red Sox streaming onto the field, jumping on each other’s backs, spraying champagne on reporters, and blowing smoke from nice juicy cigars. I want to see the ghost of Ted Williams in a corner of the clubhouse standing there with a knowing smirk. I want to see Johnny Pesky cry tears of joy. I want to see a dejected Yankee squad slowly file back to the clubhouse, hanging their heads, and wiping a few tears from their eyes.

Truthfully, at this point, I and the rest of the Boston faithful just want to see the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years, and it doesn’t matter to me what teams they must push aside to get there. What would give me the most satisfaction, however, is to know that we went through New York to do it. Having been in their shadows for so long – 86 years, to be exact – nothing would be sweeter than to finish what was started in 2003, when the Red Sox came so very close to making this wish come true.

Putting On The Hurt

Nomar Garciaparra smiled to reporters this spring and told everyone not to worry because his ankle was just a little sore and that, after all, spring training games are meaningless. You don’t win championships in Florida, unless you happen to be the Marlins. But, just days before the 2004 season was to begin, the Red Sox placed the All-Star shortstop on the 15-day disabled list due to a sore Achilles with a likely return date around the end of April. You can’t help but flash back a few seasons when he missed most of 2001 due to a nagging wrist injury that required surgery on Opening Day.

Trot Nixon is another of the walking wounded for the Red Sox; out since early in spring training with a sore back, he is not expected to return until the start of May at the earliest. Ditto for Ramiro Mendoza, who was placed on the DL with shoulder tendonitis four games into the young season, and Byung-Hyun Kim, who started the season on the DL and spends these days rehabbing in Sarasota. Johnny Damon has also sat out for a couple of games, perhaps in part because his long hair has robbed him of any peripheral vision and caused him to run into his fellow outfielders during the first few games. Fortunately, his injury will not require injured reserve status and he should be back for action when the rains end.

Perhaps the slew of injuries that have plagued the Red Sox early in this year’s race can account in part for the stagnant production at the plate. Yes, the Sox are 4-3 after a week of baseball, but perhaps more thanks to a strong bullpen that have helped keep games close. Except for the absence of Todd Walker, this team has the same makeup as last season’s team that scored 961 runs; the difference is that the Sox were relatively injury-free for most of that year. So, instead of fielding the dream team that was molded in the off-season, Boston has had to go to the bench early and rely on role players like Gabe Kapler, Mark Bellhorn, and Cesar Crespo to fill in the blanks.

Fortunately, the schedule makers are usually very kind to the Red Sox in April. Yes, they face the Yankees seven times, but the rest of the competition consists mainly of the weak sisters from the East: Baltimore, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. Yes, they have improved and are not to be taken lightly but, even with one eye closed, the Sox can manage .500 in April without much effort and stay close to New York.

Boston, to keep its sights on October, must count on the return of its starters as expected by the end of this month. Until then, manager Terry Francona must continue to juggle the lineup as he has and hope for the best; so far, the oddball combinations have worked to help stay the course. Most important is that the rest of the team, minus the injured regulars, must remain healthy; any further setbacks may dig a hole out of which is too deep for Boston to climb.

2004 Season Preview

Now that another wild and crazy off-season is finally coming to an end, it’s time to dust off the binoculars and look over the field of players that will be putting on a uniform for the Boston nine this season. For you holdovers from last season, you won’t see many differences; the only significant loss being 2B Todd Walker, who left as a free agent and signed with the Chicago Cubs. Where the Sox have improved the most is with the pitching staff, having added starting pitcher Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke to give the Red Sox a solid staff on the mound. On paper, you have to like what you see, but this column would be relatively uninteresting if we didn’t take a closer look, let’s answer some self-imposed questions first.

1. Who will be the number one starter, Schilling or Pedro Martinez?

The truth is that there is no “number one” on this team, but Pedro will have the honor of opening the season against Baltimore on 04 April. While a definite rotation has not been set to my knowledge, there is a good chance that Schilling and Martinez will NOT pitch in back-to-back games this season. More likely, we will watch Tim Wakefield‘s knuckleball flutter between their starts. So does that make Schilling a number three starter? The good news for Red Sox nation is that Boston has one of its strongest rotations in years; when you toss in Derek Lowe, you have four proven starters that between them could easily collect 70 wins.

2. Will Bill Mueller have another career year?

It’s unlikely that Mueller and the rest of his team will repeat the offensive output that they had last season, when they out-slugged the 1927 New York Yankees and were first in runs scored in the majors. Still, it’s very likely that he can hit .300 again and continue to use the Wall to his advantage. He’s probably also good for another 10 to 15 home runs. Most importantly, he has proven himself at third base, one of the trickiest positions in baseball to play.

3. Is manager Terry Francona on the hot seat already?

Given the fact that there are several big contracts that expire at the end of this season, the pressure is on for the Red Sox to go all the way, if you ignore the fact that history and the other 29 teams are not on their side. Francona was not the first choice that the Red Sox had but, if consider that Grady Little, who had no major league coaching experience when he was named manager two years ago, won nearly 200 games in two years, you just need to have enough knowledge and personnel skills to repeat that success. As long as he is smart enough to pull a pitcher who is obviously fatigued late in a Game Seven, then he should do fine.

4. Who will see more time at first, David Ortiz or Kevin Millar?

Ortiz would like to spend more time covering the bag, but he will come second to Millar. However, when Ellis Burks is used as the DH, Ortiz will win over Millar on this battle. Ortiz just has better numbers at the plate and the Sox will not want to keep his bat out of the lineup too often.

5. What free-agent signing will have the highest impact?

Although Curt Schilling’s presence in the lineup will make the starting rotation an opponent’s nightmare, having Keith Foulke come in to shore up the closer role will mean the most to this club. Since Derek Lowe’s 2000 season in that role, the Sox have been very weak in this respect. Lowe faltered the following year, Ugueth Urbina was anything but solid in 2002, and the closer-by-committee experiment last season was, while a sound idea in theory, a complete failure in practice. Foulke collected 43 saves in his one year in Oakland and that means that the rest of the bullpen can be used better to set him up to close the door.

6. What bench player will have the highest impact?

My money is on Gabe Kapler, who enjoyed a solid spring and will actually start the season in right field as a replacement for the injured Trot Nixon. Once Nixon returns in May, Kapler will likely take a seat on the bench but will called out for service if Manny Ramirez is thrown into the DH role or is given a seat by Francona to rest for a day. He also makes a nice pinch hitter should the opponent throw out a left-handed reliever, having hit .326 last season against southpaws.

7. Will the Red Sox be able to hold off the Yankees and win the AL East?

As strong as the Red Sox have become with several key additions, you cannot ignore the Yankees, who have also made key additions for another chance at a World Series title. They certainly have a stronger lineup with the addition of Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. The only real question for the Yankees will be if Kevin Brown can have an injury-free season and if newcomer Javier Vazquez, recently of the Montreal Expos, will prove unflappable under the lights of Yankee fans and the front office. As Sox fans have seen for the last six years, you can never underestimate New York; every year, they remain tough. It helps when your owner is willing to shell out nearly $200 million to pay for the collective salary of this team.

8. Overall, is Boston good enough to… you know?

Anybody who has followed the Red Sox as long as I have knows enough NOT to start opening the champagne bottles prematurely. However, with all that happened during the off-season, good and bad, Boston has made significant strides to improve on a team that came very close to tasting a championship in 2003. It will be critical for Boston to play to this potential if they are to stay ahead of the Yankees. With the addition of Schilling, the starting rotation looks strong and, with the addition of Foulke, so does the bullpen. Although it will tough to match last season’s offensive output, there are plenty of bats available to score runs when needed and, defensively, the Red Sox are better than average at most positions and should keep the untimely errors to a minimum. In conclusion, the 2004 edition of the Boston nine is good enough, but let’s not say any more than that.