Monthly Archives: March 2009

Game Day Connections with the Tampa Bay Rays

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Red Sox and Rays meet today, the final game between the clubs that doesn’t have any meaning. In less than a week, they will meet again to resume the rivalry which the Rays took the upper hand in last years ALCS. Who would’ve imagined Rocco Baldelli would wind up in a Boston uniform after years with the Rays? Who would’ve guessed a Rays castoff in Rocco Baldelli would be acquired by Boston to help regain their status atop the AL East? How did we get here?

Well, Soon after the Tampa Bay Rays came into existence, they became a landing spot for aging baseball talent. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, their pitching was heavy on the aging aspect and light on the talent. With Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, and Fred McGriff leading the offense, Bobby Witt and Dave Eiland were getting playing time on the Rays mound. The average age of Tampa Bay’s team was over 30 years old.

Within a few seasons of 90+ losses, the franchise slowly went in a different direction; towards youth. By 2003, the average age was close to 26 years old, and filled with players who had little or no prior experience in everyday roles. The ’03 team tipped the scale in the other direction, as their pitching too would be youthful. Of the 10 pitchers who would get a turn in the rotation, 6 of them were under the age of 27. The 2003 team would go on to lose a franchise record 106 games. This roster would include Jonny Gomez, Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli. Though the team would struggle through several more terrible seasons, it wouldn’t get worse than 2003. In 2006, the Rays again hit the 100+ loss high water mark, and the roster included another 8 players who would remain on the team in 2008. Entering the 2008 season, the Rays were expected to lose 90+ games, especially considering they had at least 13 players who would remain from the terrible years of before.

Something happened along the way to their expected 90 loss season. The Second Coming of Carlos Pena and Japanese import Akinori Iwamura were given protection in a lineup with veterans Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske to go along with rookie sensation Evan Longoria. Troy Percival and several other veterans were brought in to compliment a youthful bullpen. Floyd, Hinske and Percival represented 3 World Series championships between them. During the 2008 postseason Rocco Baldelli, who suffered through a mysterious illness that left him sapped of energy, would crush a game-typing home run in Game 5 of the World Series versus the Phillies. Despite Baldelli’s attempts to change the outcome, the Phillies would respond in the next half inning, and close out their World Series victory 4 games to 1.

The Sox, recognizing Baldelli’s need for rest during the season, brought him into the fold to serve in a backup outfielder role. Perhaps to spell J.D. Drew in right a few times a week. With Drew and Baldelli’s postseason heroics in the past, the Sox may have the most clutch right field combo in baseball.

Game Day Connections with the Atlanta Braves

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Red Sox face the Atlanta Braves today, in the final week of Spring Training, fine tuning their rosters before the regular season marathon begins the following week. The Red Sox and Braves have had 136 players who have appeared in a game for both teams. However, the list of players who have played for only these two teams is much shorter. There are 9 players in history who have played exclusively for the Braves or the Red Sox. In the spring of 1998, and now again 2009, there is a familiar Braves face in a new camp, wearing a bright B on their cap instead of an A.

Mark Lemke was a fan favorite in Atlanta, and a postseason hero with the Braves in the early to mid-90’s. By 1996, his skills set had diminished from his earlier success, though he did manage to help the Braves avoid elimination from the ’96 NLCS with 8 hits in the final three games to send the Braves to the World Series versus the New York Yankees. By the end of 1997, the writing was on the wall, and Mark Lemke was looking for work. It would be nearly the end of spring training in ’98 before he found employment with the Red Sox.

Lemke’s Red Sox career would come to an abrupt end in May, when he suffered a concussion sliding into second base. He attempted to play in a game a week later, but would miss the remainder of the season and ultimately it would put a finish to his decade long career. While he would not find himself in the midst of the Red Sox charge towards the ’98 playoffs, Mark Lemke was a key part in the Opening Day heroics at Fenway Park on April 10, 1998. Facing Heathcliff Slocumb after 8 innings of vintage 15-K Randy Johnson, the Red Sox mounted a huge comeback that culminated with a Mo Vaughn walk-off grand slam. In order to get to Mo though, 6 men needed to bat. Lemke kept the flow of a building comeback when he earned a walk against Slocumb. 2 batters later, Nomar Garciaparra would drive in Lemke to bring the Sox within 3 runs. 2 batters after that, Mo Vaughn sent everybody home with an Opening Day victory. While Lemke’s Red Sox career seems like a minor blip, the walk in a great comeback game to start the season could be reason enough to consider it a successful year for this Brave-turned-Sox.

In 2009, the Sox have a former Brave and ex-teammate of Mark Lemke in camp, who arrived with the hope of returning to some form of past glory this season. John Smoltz has a much longer resume of success than Mark Lemke, but he is in a similar situation where the only baseball home he knew was no longer an option worth pursuing. Though Smoltz will not have a chance to contribute in an opening day comeback, the idea is Smoltz may be the source for a late season comeback, which the Sox occasionally have had a taste for in recent years. Here’s hoping his season successes are in reverse order as Mark Lemke’s, and the biggest contribution isn’t in his first game of the season, but maybe his last.

Game Day Connections with the Atlanta Braves

This post originally appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Red Sox face the Atlanta Braves today, in the final week of Spring Training, fine tuning their rosters before the regular season marathon begins the following week. The Red Sox and Braves have had 136 players who have appeared in a game for both teams. However, the list of players who have played for only these two teams is much shorter. There are 9 players in history who have played exclusively for the Braves or the Red Sox. In the spring of 1998, and now again 2009, there is a familiar Braves face in a new camp, wearing a bright B on their cap instead of an A.

Mark Lemke was a fan favorite in Atlanta, and a postseason hero with the Braves in the early to mid-90′s. By 1996, his skills set had diminished from his earlier success, though he did manage to help the Braves avoid elimination from the ’96 NLCS with 8 hits in the final three games to send the Braves to the World Series versus the New York Yankees. By the end of 1997, the writing was on the wall, and Mark Lemke was looking for work. It would be nearly the end of spring training in ’98 before he found employment with the Red Sox.

Lemke’s Red Sox career would come to an abrupt end in May, when he suffered a concussion sliding into second base. He attempted to play in a game a week later, but would miss the remainder of the season and ultimately it would put a finish to his decade long career. While he would not find himself in the midst of the Red Sox charge towards the ’98 playoffs, Mark Lemke was a key part in the Opening Day heroics at Fenway Park on April 10, 1998. Facing Heathcliff Slocumb after 8 innings of vintage 15-K Randy Johnson, the Red Sox mounted a huge comeback that culminated with a Mo Vaughn walk-off grand slam. In order to get to Mo though, 6 men needed to bat. Lemke kept the flow of a building comeback when he earned a walk against Slocumb. 2 batters later, Nomar Garciaparra would drive in Lemke to bring the Sox within 3 runs. 2 batters after that, Mo Vaughn sent everybody home with an Opening Day victory. While Lemke’s Red Sox career seems like a minor blip, the walk in a great comeback game to start the season could be reason enough to consider it a successful year for this Brave-turned-Sox.

In 2009, the Sox have a former Brave and ex-teammate of Mark Lemke in camp, who arrived with the hope of returning to some form of past glory this season. John Smoltz has a much longer resume of success than Mark Lemke, but he is in a similar situation where the only baseball home he knew was no longer an option worth pursuing. Though Smoltz will not have a chance to contribute in an opening day comeback, the idea is Smoltz may be the source for a late season comeback, which the Sox occasionally have had a taste for in recent years. Here’s hoping his season successes are in reverse order as Mark Lemke’s, and the biggest contribution isn’t in his first game of the season, but maybe his last.

Happy Birthday, Cy Young!

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Cy Young may not have noticed the significance of his move following the 1900 season, when he joined a Boston team in the newly developed American League. The opposition likely noticed this future Hall of Famers presence in the new American League, as he would win the Triple Crown in his first AL season. A feat that no other Boston pitcher would achieve until Pedro Martinez accomplished it 98 years later. A few seasons later, Cy Young would be at the center of the first modern day world championship series that has taken place just about every year since the inaugural series in 1903.

Cy Young played just over one third of his career with the Boston Red Sox. In only 8 seasons, Cy Young managed to solidify himself among the top of the all-time franchise leader lists for the Red Sox. Despite not having played a game for the Red Sox in 100 seasons, you will find Young still ranks among the best ever to don a Boston uniform. It’s no wonder the award for best pitcher is named after Cy Young.

As one of the best pitchers in the Dead Ball Era, Cy Young had a sub-2.00 ERA and sub 1.00 WHIP in 5 of his 8 seasons with Boston. In the first modern World Series, Cy Young led the Boston Americans to victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates with 3 complete games(winning 2) and a 6 inning stint in relief.

For his overall tremendous career, including 8 outstanding seasons in Boston, Happy 142nd Birthday to Cy Young!

Happy Birthday, Cy Young!

This post originally appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Cy Young may not have noticed the significance of his move following the 1900 season, when he joined a Boston team in the newly developed American League. The opposition likely noticed this future Hall of Famers presence in the new American League, as he would win the Triple Crown in his first AL season. A feat that no other Boston pitcher would achieve until Pedro Martinez accomplished it 98 years later. A few seasons later, Cy Young would be at the center of the first modern day world championship series that has taken place just about every year since the inaugural series in 1903.

Cy Young played just over one third of his career with the Boston Red Sox. In only 8 seasons, Cy Young managed to solidify himself among the top of the all-time franchise leader lists for the Red Sox. Despite not having played a game for the Red Sox in 100 seasons, you will find Young still ranks among the best ever to don a Boston uniform. It’s no wonder the award for best pitcher is named after Cy Young.

As one of the best pitchers in the Dead Ball Era, Cy Young had a sub-2.00 ERA and sub 1.00 WHIP in 5 of his 8 seasons with Boston. In the first modern World Series, Cy Young led the Boston Americans to victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates with 3 complete games(winning 2) and a 6 inning stint in relief.

For his overall tremendous career, including 8 outstanding seasons in Boston, Happy 142nd Birthday to Cy Young!