by Will Flemming
“I’ve never known a day when I didn’t learn something new about this game.” – Connie Mack
Connie Mack – a man who managed 7755 games in the Major Leagues – was onto something when he uttered this baseball truism. The minute you think you have America’s pastime pegged, it shows you something that will change your mind. Such was the case this past Thursday night in Norfolk.
Difficult travel is a reality in the minor leagues; on more than a few occasions a ballclub is faced with a schedule that makes it impossible to avoid a situation like the one the PawSox encountered Wednesday night. Even though the series finale in Gwinnett was rained out, the club had to make a nine-hour, overnight bus ride to Norfolk in order to be settled in time to play the opener at Harbor Park on Thursday night.
I expected an ordinary game in the opener – and we got the most extraordinary result of the season thus far (and a game that will be hard to top, as Josh chronicled after the dust settled). The defense stood out above all else, and the PawSox gave us a game we won’t soon forget.
The other wonderful surprise of the road trip – which the Sox won 4-2 – came in a bite-sized package. With Marco Hernandez and Josh Rutledge entrenched in the big leagues and Sean Coyle working to get his feet beneath him in Portland, the PawSox needed a middle infielder. Last Tuesday when word came down that the PawSox were receiving Jose Vinicio from Portland, we hardly batted an eye. Vinicio – who signed for just shy of $2 Million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican in 2009 – had slipped off most prospect radar screens. A speedy, switch-hitting shortstop with a great glove, had a nice 2012 in Greenville (where he batted .277 and stole 24 bases) but stumbled thereafter. He did enjoy a brief bounce back in 2015, where he hit .294 over 57 games with High-A Salem. But over the last week, Vinicio has shown plenty to remind us why the Sox made such a big investment in him. His speed threatens defenses every time he steps into the box: of the remarkable eight hits he posted in the weekend series in Norfolk, six of them were bunts or infield hits. He was fantastic in the field, showing excellent range (most especially in a fabulous running grab behind the second-base bag in shallow center yesterday) and arm strength. And Vinicio came through in the clutch time and again; he drove in runs in four straight games. Here is a compilation of those big swings:
On the trip, I had fun catching up with Justin Maxwell and Anthony Varvaro. Each told tales of their time in the big leagues and shared the reasons they have enjoyed this PawSox club. Here are those conversations:
Lastly: the scheduling gods were not all bad over the past week. Tuesday, as the PawSox played in Gwinnett, the Atlanta Braves hosted the San Francisco Giants. This was significant to me only because the Giants happen to employ a man that used to sit behind the PawSox’ mic – and a man who I am happy to call my big brother. It just so happened that Tuesday was David’s 40th birthday. After our game wrapped up, I raced into Atlanta and was grateful to spend some time with him – and with Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow (the fabulous television broadcasters for the Giants and two men who have been wonderful to David and to me over the last 13 seasons). Kruk and Kuip can spin a tale, and we had some wonderful laughs and celebrated my brother’s arrival over the hill. Here we were toasting the birthday boy:
Josh and I are looking forward to our first look at the Toledo MudHens tonight at 7:05. We hope you will join us on the pregame show on WHJJ 920 AM and throughout our radio network at 6:35.
by Josh Maurer
Over the course of a long baseball season, inevitably a few games will stand out in the memory bank significantly more than others. Thursday night’s affair between the PawSox and Norfolk Tides at Harbor Park will certainly be one of those for the 2016 campaign.
The PawSox won 3-1 in 14 innings, but the final score doesn’t tell the whole story of a game that featured standout defensive play after standout defensive play, repeated great escapes from Pawtucket relievers and bewildering struggles to hit with runners in scoring position.
After Norfolk scored a two-out run in the bottom of the first against PawSox starter William Cuevas, the Tides were held scoreless for the next 13 innings. In that time Norfolk stranded a remarkable 18 runners on base and went 0-for-23 with runners in scoring position.
Cuevas got early help from centerfielder Ryan LaMarre, who made the catch of the year for Pawtucket to rob Tides catcher Chris O’Brien. You have to see it to believe it – which you can below. By the way, this was O’Brien’s first-ever Triple-A at-bat.
Check out the rest of the saga from Ryan Young’s fantastic write-up on the game:
“After Pawtucket (26-27) tied the game, 1-1, on Jose Vinicio’s RBI single in the seventh inning, the Tides (18-36) would place the leadoff man on base in each of the succeeding six frames. However, a host of PawSox relievers were able to hold Norfolk off the board in each remaining inning.
In the 14th and final inning, Jantzen Witte singled with one out and Vinicio replaced him on the bases after a fielder’s choice against reliever Zach Phillips (3-2). The next batter, Mike Miller stroked a double off the wall in the right field corner that drove home Vinicio with the go-ahead run.
Ryan LaMarre followed with an RBI single to left field, delivering Pawtucket a 3-1 lead, which it held in the bottom half of the frame.
The PawSox have played two contests longer than 10 innings this season and both have been 14-inning victories over the Tides.
When the fog rolled through in the late innings, the PawSox bullpen repeatedly found incredible ways to escape jam after jam.
Relievers Wesley Wright, Pat Light, Anthony Varvaro and Roman Mendez (2-1) combined for 8.1 scoreless innings of relief.
Wright came in to record the final out of the sixth and strand two baserunners.
Light allowed a leadoff double in the ninth but used two groundouts and a fly out from the pinch-hitter Christian Walker to escape the frame.
Varvaro surrendered a leadoff triple to Yastrzemski in the 10th, but with one out, Yaz was caught in a rundown after a groundball to first base. After a walk loaded the bases with two outs, Varvaro fanned Corban Joseph to end the inning.
With a runner on second base and one out in the 11th, Justin Maxwell made a spectacular diving catch as he approached the right field line that robbed Christian Walker of a game-winning hit.
Maxwell’s defense shined again in the 12th inning. After Dario Alvarez led off the frame with a double off of Mendez and advanced to third on a groundout, he was gunned down at home on a terrific throw from Maxwell.
Not to be outdone by his fellow outfielders, Bryce Brentz made a sensational diving catch to begin the bottom of the 13th inning-the first time the leadoff man failed to reach for the Tides since the fifth inning (breaking a string that stretched for seven consecutive innings).
Norfolk still used a hit-batter, walk and wild pitch to get runners on the corners with two outs in the 13th but Mendez struck out Yastrzemski to end the inning.
The Tides used two singles to place the tying runs on base in the bottom of the 14th, but yet again Mendez prevailed, completing his three-inning outing and sealing the win for Pawtucket.
Norfolk stranded nine runners on base in the five extra frames.
Brentz, Witte and Vinicio all tallied three hits in the game.
Vinicio, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning, recorded his first Triple-A hit on a bunt single in his first at-bat of the night.
The two teams combined to go 3-for-37 with runners in scoring position.”
This game had a bit of everything, but to me it was the spectacular defense by the PawSox that stood out most. Time and again it appeared the Tides were about to plate a game-winning run, but folks like LaMarre, Maxwell and Brentz would not allow it to happen.
Check out our post-game recap from Thursday’s nights radio broadcast, featuring all the play-by-play highlights of the wild affair:
On Friday night we will see what the teams have in store for an encore. Will and I hope you will join on for the broadcast beginning at 6:35 pm, when scheduled starter Aaron Wilkerson joins us on the pregame show.
By Ryan Young
It turns out the summer weather did arrive in Rhode Island prior to Memorial Day weekend and it made for a great week to close out May at McCoy.
All About Pitching
The three PawSox wins on the latest homestand can all be attributed to some great starting pitcher performances.
First came Eduardo Rodriguez‘s fifth and final start of his rehabilitation assignment. He struck out seven, walked none and allowed only one run in seven innings, his best outing for the PawSox. Manager Kevin Boles said he looked both more athletic and comfortable on the mound.
His outing indeed was a good sign as one week later, Rodriguez tossed a quality start to earn the win in his return to Boston.
The next night, Roenis Elias fanned eight to follow up his historic 13-strikeout performance.
Prior to the two outstanding efforts, I spoke with catcher Sandy Leon about what was making some of his battery mates so effective.
Finally on Saturday night, the spotlight shone on Aaron Wilkerson, who had been transferred from Double-A Portland to Pawtucket no more than 24 hours before the game. In his second career Triple-A start (his other came on April 22), he fanned nine Indianapolis batters and allowed only three hits.
After striking out the final batter he faced, Wilkerson left to a nice ovation from the PawSox faithful.
The Sox have to feel pretty confident with the way their rotation is going right now.
On the other hand, Pawtucket had to face some of the best pitching the International League has to offer last week. That included a pair of top prospects in the Pirates organization…
Indianapolis starters Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon each earned the win last weekend. Glasnow flashed an electric curveball and Taillon hurled a dynamic fastball.
In between their starts, I had the pleasure of conducting a special 1-on-2 interview with the Indians’ duo. They spoke about how they helped each other, Taillon’s battle back from Tommy John Surgery, their favorite pitchers growing up (including former Red Sox), dealing with speculation/expectations and growing 11 inches in high school.
When you come out to McCoy, chances are you’ll see major league stars in the making on both sides like these two surely are.
The bubbly South African, Gift Ngoepe, also made his McCoy debut this week and if you haven’t head of him, you must read his backstory.
All Around McCoy
The great weather and post-game fireworks culminated in our largest crowd of the season on Sunday evening.
Additionally, fans were able to check out the opening of Mondor Way last weekend. Some checked out the festivities in front of the ballpark while others got an early peek at batting practice from along the left field line.
By the end of Saturday night, one of the many fans who entered McCoy this weekend even stole the spotlight during the game.
And then literally three minutes later the spotlight was stolen again–this time by a squirrel that made its presence known on the field for several minutes. Justin Maxwell tried to chase it off the field, but it finally found its way under the wall just in time to resume the game after a pitching change.
Other Notes and Thoughts
With Will Flemming away for the weekend, we had PawSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg and Treasurer Jeff White fill in on the PawSox Radio Network over the weekend. They also both came out with us to the left field terrace for the pregame show.
They did so well as broadcasters (play-by-play included) that I’m actually quite surprised they let Will come back this week.
Pawtucket played its final series with the IronPigs until August. Nobody on earth can be more disappointed than Chris Marrero. He has gone 16-for-37 with five doubles, four home runs, 13 RBI and 10 R in 10 games against Lehigh Valley. That included a big swing of the bat on Tuesday, when he provided the “blast” part of a game-winning “bloop-and-a-blast” with two outs in the eighth inning.
Patrolling the Outfield
I mentioned how great Blake Swihart looked in left field in my last blog post and he has taken his defense to the majors. He fit in with a strong (and large) group of solid defensive outfielders this year for the PawSox.
One of those outfielders is Ryan LaMarre. I spoke with him about his defense, Swihart, his offensive success this season (did you know Ryan is batting well over .300?) and who keeps the team lose.
LaMarre also admitted that hitting in front of Sam Travis in the lineup over the last couple weeks certainly has assisted him offensively.
Unfortunately, Travis is out for the season after his injury on Sunday. It was such a privilege to be able to watch him play over the first two months of this season. I have no doubt Sam will be back stronger than ever next season, especially with the effort he gives and his work ethic. I’m very excited for what the future has in store for him.
I’m also excited for the next homestand. You might have heard about Free Brady Friday and a visit from Patriots players on Monday and Tuesday. You might as well join us for the fun.
by Josh Maurer
This week the Red Sox will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the famous American League pennant-winning club from 1986. There will be plenty of pomp and circumstance at Fenway as many members of that popular club return to Boston for a couple of nights.
From the Red Sox official press release detailing the events:
“On Wednesday, May 25, close to 30 members of the 1986 Red Sox team will come together at Fenway Park to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the pennant-winning season. Led by American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and American League batting champion Wade Boggs, the club won 95 games during the regular season before defeating the California Angels in the American League Championship Series.
The following night on Thursday, May 26, in ceremonies taking place before the Red Sox-Rockies game, the club will retire Wade Boggs’s number 26. Boggs helped lead the Red Sox to three postseason berths, including the 1986 American League Championship. The Hall of Famer’s .338 batting average with the Red Sox is second only to Ted Williams, and no one has ever played more games at third base in team history. He was an eight-time All-Star during his 11 seasons as Boston’s third baseman from 1982-92, and during his Red Sox career, he led all major leaguers in batting average (.338), hits (2,098), doubles (422), on-base percentage (.428), and times reaching base safely (3,124), and also topped the American League in OPS (.890).”
One member of that club who will be around for the festivities is current PawSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, the catcher in that memorable season. Geddy was an AL All-Star that season, playing in 135 games and batting .258 with 16 home runs and 65 RBIs.
That year in the ALCS against the Angels, Gedman played in all 7 games of the come-from-behind series win and hit .357 with a homer and six RBIs. He also homered and played in all seven games during the World Series loss to the Mets.
Recently I sat down with Rich to talk about his memories of that incredible season, his thoughts on the upcoming two-day reunion and his feelings about former teammate Wade Boggs getting his number retired at Fenway. You can listen to the entire conversation below:
It’s always a great listen when Mr. Gedman talks baseball. I will look forward to watching him enjoy his time with his former teammates this week.
The PawSox dropped three of four this weekend in Buffalo, the final two of which came on walkoff hits by the Bisons in the bottom of the ninth inning. Up next is a six-game homestand that begins Tuesday night against Lehigh Valley.
Eduardo Rodriguez will re-start his MLB rehab assignment for the Red Sox and make his fifth appearance with Pawtucket this year. It should be fun to watch him pitch and see how the knee responds after being shut down for over one week.
Hope to see you at McCoy this week for the games against the Iron Pigs and then Indianapolis. If not, as always, Will and I will talk to you on the radio. Have a great Monday!
by Ryan Young
Hello PawSox fans and loyal readers. I’m the Broadcasting/Media Assistant this season and I look forward to contributing to the blog along with Josh and Will. My plan is to update you after every homestand at McCoy with interesting notes, sound bites and more from the week.
This week, the PawSox earned their first winning homestand of the season with series victories over the Gwinnett Braves and Norfolk Tides. Even though we suffered our fourth rainout already this season on Friday, a very eventful five days ensued. Let’s start by looking at some notable player performances.
Top Player Performances
Josh already touched on the monster performances over the weekend from Sam Travis and Bryce Brentz. Travis hit three home runs in two games. He can battle Chris Marrero for who has been more locked in for a series this year.
Brentz, meanwhile, has had a long road back since fracturing his thumb last June. Following his big doubleheader on Saturday (he went 4-for-6), I spoke with him about his successful return.
Possibly of more interest, following his recovery, Brentz also had quite the offseason. I spoke with him about his wedding (which featured familiar names as groomsmen) and one of the biggest days in his alma mater’s history this March.
In case you were living under a rock two months ago (or don’t follow March Madness), this is what we were referring to:
Also this March, a guy with a pretty familiar last name received a standing ovation in a game at the Red Sox’ spring training home, JetBlue Park. He just happened to make his Triple-A debut at McCoy this week. He goes by Mike Yastrzemski. Carl’s grandson made his debut for the Tides on Monday and he showed why he was a top prospect in the Orioles organization.
He hit a game-tying triple in his debut and a game-tying home run the next day, recording four hits in his first two games. Yaz, a New England-native, had plenty of family and friends in attendance at McCoy.
Following his Triple-A debut, I spoke with Yastrzemski about his Triple-A debut, his grandfather’s advice and growing up a Red Sox fan.
Fortunately for the PawSox, they were able to find an answer for Yaz in the final game of the homestand. His name was Roenis Elias and he made history on Wednesday morning/afternoon at McCoy.
Elias fanned 13 Norfolk batters, the most by a Pawtucket pitcher in the 21st century! It was last done in 1999 when Jim Ho Cho struck out 15 in 1999. Elias became only the seventh pitcher in PawSox history to record at least 13 strikeouts in a game.
After Pawtucket’s 3-2 win in the series finale, Elias said (through his teammate William Cuevas) that he had been working with pitching coach Bob Kipper on throwing more strikes and it showed in Wednesday’s results. Manager Kevin Boles was especially impressed with his fastball command and efficiency on the mound.
Not to be out done, the rehabbing Joe Kelly fanned 10 Tides in the series opener on Monday. In fact, PawSox pitchers struck out an astounding 41 batters in the three-game series (12 on Monday, 13 in Tuesday’s 14-inning game and 16 on Wednesday)! At least 40 strikeouts in a three-game stretch (with at least 12 strikeouts in each game) hasn’t even been done by a major league team this season.
While there has been a handful of players this season called up for various periods of time from Portland, having right-handed pitcher Mike McCarthy at McCoy this week was a special treat. McCarthy had a couple of quick stints in Pawtucket in 2014 and 2015 before he was transferred to the PawSox again on May 9.
He certainly keeps himself busy off the field, making the most of each minor league location:
He was working on his MBA while with the Sea Dogs. And during Pawtucket’s homestand, he spent his free time studying for a final.
However, the time McCarthy spends making a difference in the community is most impressive of all. Most notably, he is a large part of an organization called Baseball Miracles. Its mission is to help reach children with economic and environmental disadvantages throughout the world and teach them baseball and softball through instruction and donating supplies. McCarthy has already made stops around the globe, including Honduras this past offseason.
Here is a portion of my interview with McCarthy from this week, where we discussed spending time in the PawSox bullpen, his favorite destinations and Baseball Miracles:
Be sure to visit the Baseball Miracles website for more information.
Other Notes and Thoughts
This is the fun part. Here are some of my random takeaways from the last week.
Fortunately, I don’t have any hot takes on the unseasonably cool weather in the first third of the season. 😞
But there’s no doubt it has played a factor. We’ve already had three Saturday doubleheaders this season with another twin-bill on the way in June. Playing three games in 24 hours is already challenging, but it’s even more difficult when strong winds decide to show up, as has been the case for the majority of games at McCoy this month.
There was a jet stream blowing out to right field this week thanks to high wind gusts. It burned the PawSox more than it helped, which included blowing out Norfolk’s game-winning home run on Monday. But thankfully, there is an example where Ryan LaMarre was able to take advantage of the jetstream:
The wind also made it difficult to catch fly balls. In game one of Saturday’s doubleheader, Blake Swihart had to reverse his track of running towards the left field line after the wind pushed a flyball back towards center field. Brentz took note of Swihart’s nice catch and on a flyball down the left field line in game two, he expected to make a sliding grab. But instead, the wind calmed and this happened:
Foul Ground at McCoy
It’s already difficult enough to go after foul balls at McCoy because there is so much foul territory. Jantzen Witte has learned this. He sprinted after a foul ball earlier this month, took a full-out dive and came away just short of the catch.
When I asked Witte about his great effort this week, he relayed an amusing anecdote:
Soon after Swihart was sent to Pawtucket, he began working on playing left field for the first time in his professional career. He did patrol the outfield in high school, but he said the most difficult part of readjusting to the outfield was reading fly balls. Here is more of what Swihart said a couple days before playing left field for the first time as a professional:
Since making his first appearance in left field on May 3, Swihart has made 11 starts in left field and eight starts at catcher for the PawSox. It has been difficult to tell that he had not played the outfield in six years. Swihart has been very smooth tracking down fly balls. He even had a game in Scranton when he recorded a pair of outfield assists.
Swihart also showed off his arm behind the plate on the last homestand, throwing out two base-stealers in one inning.
After gunning down Schoop, he also threw out Yastrzemski for the final out of the frame.
That game also happened to be the longest contest (by innings) that Pawtucket had played in the last calendar year. In a wild, back-and-forth affair, Kyle Martin escaped a ninth-inning, bases-loaded, nobody-out jam to keep the game tied. The teams traded runs in the 10th inning before Rusney Castillo finally won the game in the 14th.
Before the team took the field for an 11:00 a.m. start the next morning (of course the first morning game in McCoy history would have to follow a 14-inning contest the previous night), Martin, Justin Maxwell and Boles reacted to the win and quick turnaround:
And now for the most important note of the week…
My first two innings of play-by-play on the PawSox Radio Network happened to coincide with eight Pawtucket runs. It was capped off by this swing of the bat:
Is the fact the PawSox average nearly three runs per inning with me doing the play-by-play this season a coincidence?
Fine, I’ll admit it is. And I’ll also admit that the 4-2 homestand along with everything else I’ve mentioned were much more important.
So thankfully, you can keep listening to Josh and Will. Make sure to tune in this weekend to see if the PawSox continue to play well in Buffalo. And then come out to McCoy next week. Maybe I’ll regret saying this, but it actually looks like the summer weather will roll in by Memorial Day Weekend!
by Josh Maurer
What a 19-hour stretch for PawSox first-baseman Sam Travis, huh? Between 8pm on Saturday night and 3pm on Sunday afternoon, Travis ripped three home runs, all pulled out to left field against the Gwinnett Braves.
This after Travis had not homered since April 14th, and had done so only twice all season prior to the series against the G-Braves. All three of the blasts went against a very stiff wind. Here they all are in chronological order:
All those swings look pretty similar, wouldn’t you say? It’s fun to watch when a player like Travis gets locked in at the plate.
It was also a terrific weekend for Bryce Brentz, who is starting to look back in regular form after missing nearly the first month of the season.
Brentz started all three games and collected five hits in the Gwinnett series, including these three you can watch below:
Bryce also had the defensive gem of the weekend, a tumbling grab in left field foul territory on Saturday night in game two of the doubleheader. Couple the with a diving catch in Scranton last week and Brentz has been laying his body all over the field recently:
I have always said that Bryce, who is known for being a power right-handed bat, is extremely underrated with his glove. He helps you quite a bit defensively in either corner outfield position.
The PawSox won two of three from Gwinnett, using back-to-back offensive outbursts to collect the final two games of the series on Saturday and Sunday. They will try to keep the bats rolling when Norfolk comes into town Monday night to begin a three-game series.
Joe Kelly continues his rehab assignment for Boston at McCoy on Monday night at 7:05pm. He looked strong on Wednesday in Scranton, allowing just one run and hitting 98 miles-per-hour on the radar gun with his final pitch in Moosic.
Hope to see you at the park this week, thanks so much for reading!
by Josh Maurer
As the Triple-A pitching coach, Bob Kipper knows the work he puts in with his staff will often directly impact the fortunes of the big-league club. Having been a successful MLB picher and a Major League bullpen coach, “Kip” knows what it takes for his hurlers to make it, and more importantly excel at the next level.
The PawSox have already had a whopping seven pitchers go up from Pawtucket to Boston this season. They have also received two important members of the Red Sox starting rotation for multiple-start injury rehab assignments. So, it suffices to say that there are few men in the organization as important as Kipper when it comes to the success of the big-league pitching staff.
Recently I sat down with Kip for a lengthy chat about, among others, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly, Henry Owens and Sean O’Sullivan. You can listen to the conversation in its entirety below:
One of those pitchers who made his way up from the PawSox to the Red Sox this season was hard-throwing reliever Pat Light. Light made his big-league debut two weeks ago, and had a whirlwind of an experience in doing so.
Pat was very candid and affable in talking about his entire trip to the Majors – from the moment he received the word until the time he was optioned back to Pawtucket. The following interview provides a great glimpse at what it can be like for a young ballplayer to have his life-long dream come true. It is worth a listen:
Joe Kelly resumes his MLB rehab assignment on Wednesday night in Scranton at 6:35pm. He looked sharp in his three-inning outing last Friday at McCoy, and will look to build off of that this evening at PNC Field.
Meanwhile, John Farrell announced Monday that Eduardo Rodriguez will continue his rehab stint on Friday with the PawSox and make his fourth start for the club at McCoy against Gwinnett. Eddie certainly looked his sharpest out of any of the three outings on Mother’s Day as he worked 5.2 innings against Rochester.
Will and I look forward to speaking with you tonight from Moosic, PA. Happy Wednesday all!